Domingo advises against radical changes
The tears have dried, the words have been spoken, some sleep finally came to stop the re-runs of Tuesday night that have been playing in the minds of the South Africa squad, and a few of them have made the 30-hour journey home. It is all over and as the scabs form over the open wounds, Russell Domingo has said calm, not change, is the way forward.
"We will let things settle down a little bit, we will grimace and bear watching the final between Australia and New Zealand, or we might watch Kaizer Chiefs instead, and then we take stock of where we are. There is such a fine line between winning and losing, and for us to want to make radical or drastic changes or chuck this out or chuck that out based on a boundary with one ball to spare will be a little bit immature," Domingo said. "We don't want players to make emotional decisions after a tournament like this and think of retiring."
The eight members of the squad in their 30s, including AB de Villiers and Hashim Amla, may not see another World Cup but Domingo wants to leave the door open. "We're hoping AB plays until 2027," he joked. "Look, Kumar Sangakkara got four hundreds back to back. He is 37. AB's best batting years are ahead of him. JP's best batting years are ahead of him, Faf's too. At the next World Cup, you could have a seriously mature, experienced batting group. There is by no means talk that that's the end of that batting group. I still think they've got at least one World Cup to go."
De Villiers would not be drawn that far into the future, maintaining that he still has "absolutely no idea" how the team will get over this and that he is "not there yet." He has a week off before the IPL, which he hopes to use to get there. "I need some time away from the game. Luckily, I have got a week at home with family - not my mom and dad because they are still in Sydney, they thought we were going to the final so it's quite ironic," he said. "But my wife is here. I'll play with my dogs, play a round of golf, have a beer or two. Come the first game of the IPL, I will start thinking of where this cricket thing is moving to."
Domingo did not go as far as bowlers in de Villiers' age group but hinted some changes may come in the support staff, when contracts are renegotiated over the next few weeks.
"Regarding the management team, quite a few guys' contracts come up at the end of April. We will have to sit down, with the CEO and the board, and go through that and make a decision pretty soon. There's no confirmation of who is staying and who is going," Domingo said.
For now, the only movement in South African cricket is that of the players returning to the country from Auckland. They are arriving in four groups and the first one, which touched down on Friday morning, included De Villiers, Faf du Plessis, Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, JP Duminy and Rilee Rossouw. They were met in Perth by two young girls who brought banners on which they had written, in Afrikaans, "You are still heroes", and "Still proud."
By the time they reached Johannesburg, at 4.40am, a crowd had gathered at OR Tambo International Airport. "Give me a hug AB, I'm also sad," was one of the posters on display. De Villiers responded with a warm embrace. The players signed autographs and posed for pictures and fed off the cocoon of support they've been ensconced in.
"I was expecting some negativity from fans and the media but the messages we have received have made us feel like a bunch of winners just like our minister always says," de Villiers said.
The minister, Fikile Mbalula, arrived half an hour into the press conference, saying he would not have woken up that early to welcome home a "bunch of losers" and he let de Villiers know he had shared the team's tears. "You were determined to cross the line," Mbalula said. "I don't know who Duck or Lewis is but we tried our best and lost."
That was there for all to see as South Africa provided one of the World Cup's best games despite finishing on the wrong side. Their despair on the field in Auckland had continued into the change room where de Villiers said it was "difficult to talk afterwards," although he tried. "Russell and I said a few words, all just encouraging the guys. I thought it was really important for the guys not to sulk too much. I told them how proud I was and how easy they made my job as a captain, knowing they were right behind me."
South Africa did not return with the trophy the nation so desperately wanted, but de Villiers assured them they returned with memories to treasure despite the way it ended. "I had written a few words on a diary every day of the tournament and it's all positive. I've got such great memories. I had a wonderful time," he said.
He also hoped the team had fuelled the dreams of those who may follow. "For me, the World Cup is something you work your whole life for. It's something I started dreaming of when I was really young," de Villiers said. "There is not 1% doubt in my mind that every single member of the squad was there with 100% passion.
"We gave it our best. It's the main prize in my heart - to come back and see the difference we've made to the youngsters of South Africa. It's about performing in a way that inspires the next generations. For example, I didn't think of South Africa losing in the 1992 World Cup, I thought of Jonty Rhodes' run-out and things like that inspired me. Hopefully we have the same influence."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent