After overseeing South Africa through one of their toughest transitions, Russell Domingo will have to reapply for the coaching job if he hopes to continue beyond August this year. Does that really mean, however, that his position is on the line? No, according to several insiders who say the application process is an administrative formality and not a judgment on Domingo's work.
"I don't think there is anything sinister about it," one official told ESPNcricinfo. "Cricket South Africa is just making sure that if Russell's contract is going to be renewed, it comes out of a proper process."
The reason lies in the number of extensions Domingo has been granted in his tenure. His contract has already been extended three times, and because he is on a fixed-term deal CSA cannot risk creating a reasonable expectation that his contract will be renewed in perpetuity, because that will put them at risk of legal action should a termination occur.
Domingo was initially contracted as head coach on a two-year deal from May 2013 - after the Champions Trophy that year when Gary Kirsten stepped down - until the end of April 2015. In September 2014, however, he was given a year's extension until April 2016 to guarantee him his position irrespective of the result of the 2015 World Cup.
In June 2015, Domingo was given another year to take to him to April 2017 and then in October 2016, despite a string of poor results that included South Africa failing to reach the final of a triangular series in the Caribbean, Domingo's deal was topped up by four months to last until the end of the England tour in August 2017. At that point, Domingo was informed that there would be no further extensions in order to follow protocol.
"With contracts like this, a decision also has to be made depending on certain tours or when the most logical time to put out a call for applications might be," one official said. "The timing can get a bit awkward because you can't have uncertainty over the coaching position before a major tournament or series but at the same time, the contract has an expiration date. It's important that CSA does not create the expectation that the contract will just roll over. They are trying to avoid that reasonable expectation by making sure that if they choose to appoint Domingo again, it will be through a procedure that involves other applicants."
CSA has already confirmed that Domingo can apply if he wishes but he has not given indication of whether he intends to. The last time Domingo addressed the media was at the conclusion of South Africa's T20 series defeat against Sri Lanka, when he discussed plans for the Champions Trophy this year.
Prior to that, Domingo had spoken after South Africa's Test series win over Sri Lanka and admitted there were times during the slump in 2015 and 2016 - when South Africa lost five out of eight Tests, were booted out of the World T20 in the first round, and failed to reach the final of the of a triangular series in the Caribbean - when he thought he would lose his job despite having the support of the players.
"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," Domingo said in mid-January. "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."
Domingo continues to enjoy that backing. When the South African team found out about the need for him to reapply for his job, they were playing Sri Lanka in the first ODI in Port Elizabeth. Afterwards, ODI captain AB de Villiers said it was a "bitter pill to swallow" because Domingo was "like family" to the players.
De Villiers' contract with CSA will also come up for discussion soon. He is currently on a two-year deal but after announcing that he has made himself unavailable for Test cricket for most of 2017, it is understood CSA's top brass is tempted to revisit the terms of the deal. However, South Africa players are contracted on a rankings system which means that their value, rather than the frequency with which they appear, determines the value of their contracts.
"The selectors decide the player rankings and it depends on how they view that players' contribution, be it in one format or in many," one official said. "So it is possible that de Villiers could be viewed as the most important player even though he won't be playing Test cricket but it is also possible that could affect his ranking. At the end of the day, that could make a difference to his salary."
Despite his Test hiatus, de Villiers remains South Africa's one-day captain and has made it his priority to take them to the 2019 World Cup.