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'We want to play an expansive brand of cricket'

"The next year is a big year for us. We've got our rankings back up but we've still got work to do. There's no way we can be complacent after three series" Getty Images

It's sunny in South Africa again. At least in Test cricket terms. Just 12 months after their worst season since readmission - South Africa lost five out of eight Tests in 2015-16 and tumbled from No. 1 to No. 7 on the rankings - the team is back up to No. 3 and starting to look like its old self. Batsmen are dominating on tough pitches, bowling has become incisive, and there is renewed energy.

One of the men who has experienced the ups, the downs, and the ups again is coach Russell Domingo. In a press conference after South Africa completed a 3-0 series win against Sri Lanka in Johannesburg, he spoke about what's changed, why things were never as bad as they seemed, and what there is to look forward to in the coming months.

South Africa have now won three consecutive Test series and sit at No. 3 on the Test rankings. Has the tide turned completely after last summer?
It's the start of a new era for this team after the trials and tribulations of the past year or so, but we are not the finished article. There is still room for improvement in every department. The next year is a big year for us. We've got our rankings back up but we've still got work to do. There's no way we can be complacent after three series.

Which areas, specifically, do you want to concentrate on?
Consistency with the bat. Dean Elgar has stepped up in this series with a hundred and two scores over fifty. Before that, there hasn't been a hot streak amongst one our batters. We are slowly getting there. It's about trying to get two or three hundreds per series per player. We also have a new bowling attack and we need to find the best balance in our bowling attack.

"South African cricket has got more challenges than most other nations in the world. In terms of finances, in terms of Kolpaks, in terms of the make-up of the team. Yet, we always tend to find ourselves in the top three more times than not, in all formats"

How would you like to see this Test team progress?
We want to play a positive brand of cricket. We want to play an expansive brand of cricket. It will be clich├ęd to say "fearless". When opportunities arise, we want to seize the initiative and rather err on the positive than the conservative, and we want to continue to grow that. We are going to make mistakes. Someone is going to get caught on the boundary and you are all going to say, "What the hell is he doing, how can he play that shot?" But that's cool. That's the way we want to try and play our cricket.

Are you happy with the way the openers have performed?
If you want to have a quality Test team, you need a quality opening partnership and we definitely seem to be moving that way at the moment. Stephen Cook and Dean have got a good thing going. They complement each other really well. They are both gutsy players. The way they played on the first morning here [at the Wanderers] was wonderful. They only put on 45, but it felt like a hundred because of the nature of the wicket.

Are these the kinds of pitches you would like to see used for home series?
It depends on who you are playing against. If you are playing against Australia, who are historically not a great team on slower wickets, you might want to play more on coastal conditions. If you are playing a subcontinent team , you want to play them on these types of wickets.

Are you concerned about Temba Bavuma's form?
When the team is winning there's always going to be one batter that's struggling for form. That's just the nature of Test batting. Three Tests ago, Temba probably won the game with Quinton de Kock in Hobart, when he got that wonderful 70-odd and set the game up for us in tough conditions. A Test before that, he also got runs when we were 60 [81] for 5. It's the nature of international cricket. You can't have all six or all seven of your batters firing at the same time. When one batter is struggling, it's important that the other guys contribute.

The depth of the talent pool was under scrutiny, not only after injuries to bowlers last year but also because of the spate of Kolpak signings. Are you happy with the resources at your disposal?
South Africa are blessed in that we seem to produce really good cricketers. I have been speaking to the Under-19 coaches and there are some high-quality players in the U-19 side now, who, in a couple of years, can progress to the national side the way a Quinton de Kock or Kagiso Rabada did. We are very fortunate that we have a good schooling system that can produce the young players.

Do you think there was an overreaction to the troubles of last summer?
I was saying to someone the other day, and I am not comparing, but South African cricket has got more challenges than most other nations in the world. That's the truth. In terms of finances, in terms of Kolpaks, in terms of the make-up of the team. That's just the way it is. Other teams maybe don't have to deal with it. A team like England. Yet, we always tend to find ourselves in the top three more times than not, in all formats. There's a lot to be appreciative of about the way South African cricket operates and the way the players go about their business. Not many teams face the sort of challenges we face. Maybe the public at times just expect you to be No. 1 at absolutely everything and it's just not possible when old, mature, experienced, high-quality players leave and potentially talented players come into the team. The likes of Quinton de Kock, Temba Bavuma, Kagiso Rabada and Stephen Cook, to a certain degree, take a little bit of time before they get to that level. Some of those guys are now getting to that level and that's why the team is performing better.

"There are some high-quality players in the U-19 side now, who, in a couple of years, can progress to the national side the way a Quinton de Kock or Kagiso Rabada did"

Did you think there was a chance you would lose your job?
I could go tomorrow. Nothing is certain. I by no means look too far ahead in my coaching career. I take it one series at a time. You never know what's around the corner in coaching. I've always felt that the support that I've got from the players is the most important thing. If you've still got the support of the players, that's all that matters. I've always felt I had that. It's out of my control, what happens happens.

We often talk about the players' schedules and how packed those are, but coaches are also on the road for long periods of time. We've seen Australia give Darren Lehmann a break and split the responsibility. Would you also like some time off?
I am going home for two nights after this Test because if I didn't go home for these two nights, I might only have had one or two nights until April 4, but when I get back here Tuesday, I am really excited by the group of players I am going to be working with. I am not going to be seeing Faf [du Plessis], JP [Duminy], Hashim [Amla], KG [Rabada]. There are going to be 13 completely new players in the T20 series. They will be so hungry and so desperate to make an impression for South African cricket. And that's exciting for us. I've told our coaches, "Boys, we've got to have our A game here because it's like first day of school for a lot of these guys." They are so desperate to play for their country and it's exciting for me to get to work with those types of players.