Domingo targets fresh start but doubts swirl about his future
Perhaps the only real news to came out of South Africa's departure press conference ahead of their ODI triangular series in the Caribbean is that Russell Domingo still has a job. For now.
The under-fire coach was in position as the team set off for their first assignment since the World T20, even as a review into his post is ongoing. Domingo's job is likely to be the most scrutinised aspect of the national team's underperformance in the 2015-16 summer but, with the panel appointed to investigate the reasons yet to reveal their findings and his contract in place until the end of April 2017, he has the chance to begin the recovery. And there is a lot of that to do.
South Africa slipped from No.1 to No.6 on the Test rankings in less than six months and Domingo, with the help of his young son, is starting to see the opportunity that presents. "Chatting to my 11-year-old son, he reckons it's a good thing we've dropped down because it takes a little bit of the pressure away from trying to hold on to that position and doing whatever you can to get into that position," Domingo said.
"It's nice to be back in the pack and chasing the No.1 side. Things change so quickly. You beat one or two sides ahead of you and before you know it, you could be No.2 or No.1 again. We are playing some sides that are ranked above us in the next few months and that provides an opportunity to get back up there again. For me it's a very exciting time, it's an exciting time for the new captain and for one or two players who want to prove a point. Although it's a disappointment that we've dropped down, it's a blessing in disguise because we have to refocus."
One of those players with a point to prove will be Dale Steyn. South Africa's pace spearhead sat out six of the last eight Tests injured and has only played five internationals this year. Despite the dearth of game time, the selectors decided to rest him for the upcoming ODIs but Steyn responded by signing a T20 deal with Glamorgan.
By the time South Africa play Tests again, against New Zealand in August, both Steyn and Domingo will have had a few games to gauge where they are at, and Domingo expects Steyn will be back in a big way.
"Dale is a champion bowler and with great bowlers like that, when people start questioning and writing them off, they produce the goods," Domingo said. "We've got a lot of Test cricket ahead and we've got five ODIs in South Africa against Australia which I am confident he will be part of. He has got a lot of cricket to still offer South Africa. Dale is our No.1 go-to guy in Test cricket. He will lead this attack for a while still."
But not in West Indies next month, where it will be up to Morne Morkel, Kagiso Rabada, Chris Morris, Kyle Abbott and freshly recalled Wayne Parnell to carry the quick bowling duties. Domingo is particularly excited about Parnell's inclusion, which comes after an 11-month absence from the international stage and a solid season of domestic cricket.
"I've always thought Wayne Parnell is a special cricketer with a lot of ability. I am just so pleased that he has gone into domestic cricket and done exactly what was required," Domingo said. "We are pleased that he is developing. That was all it was. He needed to get some game time, and play week-in, week-out get some overs under his belt and get his confidence where it needs to be, because touring as a fringe player, you don't get a lot of game time and it can easily set you back as a player."
This series will show whether Parnell has moved forward. It will also allow South Africa to move on from their summer of discontent, especially because it will be played in the one format that had been kind to them last season. They won ODI series over India and England but those were eclipsed by the slew of Test and T20 disappointments. Now, they have the chance to get back on track. "There's an opportunity for us to improve on our one-day ranking by playing a side that's ranked above us (Australia)," Domingo said.
As for the other side, West Indies are languishing at No.8 and could be forced out of their own party if Australia and South Africa play to their potential. But Domingo believes there is something South Africa can learn from their hosts, not just because it will be his first time there.
"As a youngster we grew up idolising the West Indian side of the 1980s. I played a lot of cricket with Eldine Baptiste and he told us a lot of stories about the West Indian culture and how they used to play their cricket and to experience all of that is very humbling and very exciting for someone like me," Domingo said.
"West Indies have always played the game in a free-spirited way. They've got a bit of swagger, a bit of x-factor and maybe we can learn a few lessons from that. Maybe at times we do get too tense and they go about their business in a light-hearted way and perform when it counts."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent