Russell Domingo and all other interested applicants will "soon" find out how to put themselves in contention to become South Africa's national head coach. Domingo, the incumbent, is contracted until the end of the England tour in August, and has not confirmed if he will reapply for his post. Instead, he has repeatedly directed questions to CSA's board, who he said have yet to inform him of the process of reapplying.
On Wednesday an insider told ESPNcricinfo they were expecting the board to "make an announcement very soon to explain what will happen" in terms of the application process. The source said the board was "still in the process of finalising some details" and confirmed that Domingo has not been informed of any developments yet. *On Thursday, after this article was first published, CSA revealed they had nominated a five-man panel to screen and recommend a new coach but did not say whether applications had opened or detail the exact process, but the search, it seems, has begun.
All indications are that irrespective of the results on the tour, Domingo will not be offered an extension, primarily because CSA are compelled to advertise the post to prevent creating an expectation of permanence, because that will put them at risk of legal action should a termination occur. Domingo has already had his contract renewed three times since he was appointed mid-2013 and good corporate governance dictates that there should not be any further rollovers. That means that even if CSA is satisfied with Domingo's performance and want him to continue in the job, they will have to follow formalities in order to keep him.
While the suits keep their cards close to their chests, the players have thrown their support behind Domingo several times. After South Africa were booted out of a tri-series in the Caribbean last June and Domingo found himself under severe pressure, ODI captain AB de Villiers said he "felt Russell's done a fantastic job". Then, in October after South Africa whitewashed Australia 5-0 in an ODI series at home, Test and T20 captain Faf du Plessis gave Domingo "full credit" for the team's improvement and said he had "stepped up his game". And this March, after South Africa completed a successful summer with four Test series wins, Dean Elgar told the media both he and other players "would like to see Russell stay on" because "he still has a hell of a lot to offer the team".
When leaving for the UK on Tuesday, du Plessis again reiterated his backing of Domingo and said he did not see the tour as a chance to send Domingo off on a high but rather as a way to get some good results, so "we can carry on business as normal". Earlier this month du Plessis revealed in an interview with GQ magazine that he along with some of the other senior players, is considering retirement after the 2019 World Cup, and it appears that they would like Domingo to oversee them at that tournament.
"Imagine if Domingo is told he will either not be considered for the post further or will have to go through a complicated reapplication process before the Champions Trophy begins, when expectations on South Africa will be growing. Or midway through the tournament, when that pressure will mount"
Ultimately the decision over the coach is not up to the players but it would seem amiss for their bosses not to take their opinions into consideration. It may also seem strange that CSA has sent Domingo on what is one of his most important assignments with so much uncertainty swirling around him. Now that the board's announcement has been made, it does not provide Domingo with the reassurance he needs ahead of a big tour.
Over the next three months, Domingo will face several uncertainties, including speculation over who his successor will be. At some point he may be told he will not be considered for the post further or that he will have to go through a complicated reapplication process. Imagine if this happens in the next two weeks, before the Champions Trophy begins, when expectations on South Africa will be growing. Or midway through the tournament, when that pressure will mount. Or after it, when Domingo might possibly have made history by winning an ICC title, in which case it would seem a no-brainer not to retain him, or he would have suffered disappointment in another major tournament, which will surely result in calls for his head.
Or what if Domingo learns something of his fate before the all-important Test series against England, in which South Africa can close the gap between themselves and India? They need to be at their best for that series, especially because it comes at the end of an unprecedentedly long 12-week tour, more especially because it could be interrupted by their captain du Plessis' departure mid-tour for the birth of his first child, and most especially because they will be without de Villiers and Dale Steyn, who are on sabbatical and surgery recovery respectively. The last thing South Africa need at the same time is the distraction of not knowing who their next coach will be.
And then imagine South Africa win that series, a third successive victory in England, only to be told Domingo will not be retained. Or if they lose the series and Domingo keeps his job anyway. Or if they lose the series and have to head into a home summer of ten Tests with a new coach, who will have a new path he wants to put them on. Or if they win the series and want to carry on following Domingo's direction but have to accept someone else's.
And then there is also the question of the support staff. Domingo assembled a crew which comprises of an assistant coach, Adi Birrell; a bowling coach, Charl Langeveldt; a batting consultant, Neil McKenzie; and a spin bowling coach, Claude Henderson. Fitness trainer Greg King and a physiotherapist, Brandon Jackson, and team manager Mohammed Moosajee were involved before Domingo, but it is known that the contract of at least one of them, Moosajee, ends with Domingo's. The rest of them expect to go if Domingo goes, since a new coach tends to want his own aides, and there will be concerns over how much they will be missed. All have made great strides with the current crop - Langeveldt's work with developing bowling skills has been a particularly noteworthy aspect of the latter half of Domingo's tenure. McKenzie, who only retired recently, has played with and against the batsmen under his wing and so has first-hand knowledge of them. Birrell and Henderson have also received praise for their roles.
What if all that is lost to this South African team, who have found solid ground after the uncertainty that shook them two seasons ago?
As they begin a tour that will be defining in many of their careers, there are too many what-ifs. The "soon" the board promised came as soon as the next day but it has not come as clearly as Domingo or even those after his job would have liked.
10:44:49 GMT, May 18, 2017: *This article was updated to reflect CSA's announcement on May 18 that a panel had been constituted to recommend a suitable candidate for the position of South Africa head coach