Like Russell Domingo, Gary Kirsten lost his first ODI series in charge of South Africa. It was not as dramatic a defeat: 2-1 to Australia at home with AB de Villiers out injured in his first series as captain and Hashim Amla reluctantly leading in his place compared to a 4-1 drubbing courtesy of Sri Lanka away with de Villiers looking as though he cannot handle being captain anymore and senior players such as Graeme Smith and Dale Steyn recovering from niggles.
Unlike Domingo, Kirsten was all smiles in the aftermath. He said the series was merely about getting players "game-ready," ahead of Tests, which was ultimately Kirsten's major focus. Domingo wore a stern look and issued a surprisingly strong criticism of his team.
Sri Lanka was his fact-finding mission and he seems to have discovered how much South Africa has to do to become a team that can realistically challenge for an ICC trophy in Bangladesh next year and Australia and New Zealand in 2015. Before anyone could ask Domingo about what he has learnt, he delivered a soliloquy answering questions about everything from the opening partnership to the inability to take wickets in the middle overs. The seriousness he showed was best-summed up in one simple statement, "We were found wanting in those conditions."
Apart from a brief visit to Sri Lanka for the World T20 last year, South Africa had not toured the island since 2006. The seven-year gap meant the only members of the squad to have played an ODI in the country prior to this tour were Robin Peterson and JP Duminy. Turning tracks, heat and noisy crowds are not new concepts to any cricketers but they were foreign to many of those on this tour and combined with inexperience, they proved intimidating as well.
"Sri Lanka is a hell of a tough place to tour. The record shows that more experienced sides have gone there and been turned over," Domingo said. "And it has highlighted shortcomings in that format that we need to address going forward."
In short: all of them. That would suggest a major overhaul of South Africa's current structures but Domingo emphasised he did not want to dump his chargers onto the used pile. "All the players that are there are not bad players, they just had a tough tour," he said. "I can't see too many drastic, dramatic changes. Unless somebody does what Quinton de Kock did and smashed down the door, I'm happy with the group of players I've got."
De Kock caught the national selectors' eyes with his form at Under-19 level and by finishing in the top five run-scorers in the 2011-12 domestic T20 competition and his ability to also keep wicket saw him fast-tracked into the South African side. While he has showed promise and even improved, it's likely the "exciting player who is still learning his trade," may be sent back to the franchise system to hone his skills.
The 20-year old was one half of a problematic opening partnership that also rotated between Colin Ingram, Alviro Petersen and Amla in the ODIs and Henry Davids in the T20s. South Africa went the entire eight-match tour without a single first-wicket stand of 50-plus.
Domingo identified not having Amla fit for all the ODIs and missing Smith as one cause for that failing. But he also blamed those that were used for not being able to grab their opportunities. "The players who did come in did not cement a place and did not make the impacts we were hoping for," he admitted. Amla will retain his position there but it seems clear Domingo is hopeful of Smith's return to add stability.
Domingo did bring in a degree of consistency by sticking to a middle order throughout the series which saw JP Duminy at No.3, de Villiers at 4 and Faf du Plessis at 5 throughout the tour. The trio initially struggled for runs with Duminy coming good in both formats, de Villiers scoring a half-century in the final ODI and du Plessis doing the same in the last T20.
They lacked fluency together which left the middle order at the mercy of Sri Lanka's spinners. "It was a massive problem for us and the lack of experience was highlighted. There were times when our middle order was exposed against their quality spinners under those testing conditions," Domingo said.
De Villiers said he "does not have to panic," about his lack of runs because he "felt in good form," while du Plessis admitted he was weighed down by his inability to contribute with the bat. "I'm at that stage where I want to performing for South Africa consistently and it was a tough time," du Plessis said. "We needed to pull each other through the tour."
The bowlers faced exactly the same dilemma. On surfaces which required a different set of skills to what they are used to - slower balls, cutters and spin as opposed to bouncers on spicy surfaces at home - they were unable to find lengths at first, never mind wickets. With 58 wides bowled in the ODIs, Domingo said that was one of the biggest disappointments. "As South Africans, we pride ourselves on being meticulous and in the way we plan. It was unacceptable the way we started."
But he was also concerned that they allowed Sri Lanka's batsmen to settle in because there was an "inability to take wickets after the new ball had been used." Domingo bracketed overs 15 to 35 in which South Africa took just ten wickets across the five matches.
Their bowling improved in the T20s, with the inclusion of both Wayne Parnell and Imran Tahir and Domingo indicated both have made cases for consideration in other formats. "Wayne is an x-factor player and he is as strong as he has ever been," he said. He added that the legspinner has "massive value to add."
Many critics questioned why Tahir did not play the ODI series but Domingo explained he had to "be fair." With Peterson and Aaron Phangiso the most recent spinners to play for South Africa, Domingo said it would have been "grossly unfair," to allow Tahir to usurp one of them, without giving them a chance to continue in the role first.
His decision in that regard shows that under him, the players can always be assured they will get a decent run to prove what they can do but they should also expect a thorough critique of their efforts during their time.