Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent
Russell Domingo, South Africa's coach, has blamed heavy workloads and jaded players for his team's failure to reach the final of the tri-nation series in the West Indies, but insisted the below-par performance would not push him to resign. Instead, Domingo called on Cricket South Africa to look into managing players' workloads outside the international schedule to ensure they are hungry enough to perform for their country.
"This loss comes on the back of our top players playing too much cricket," Domingo said on his arrival in South Africa. "It's a big concern for me. It's one of the points I need to highlight with my superiors when I get time to sit down and chat to them.
"Think about our seriously long tour to India, long tour against England, then straight into the World T20. Then players stayed behind, played the IPL and flew straight to Caribbean. Some players arrived two days before our first game in Guyana and now some are staying another four weeks in the Caribbean, some are playing county cricket, then home for two weeks, then a series against New Zealand, then go and play a mini IPL, then straight into a tour against Australia. Those are challenges that the coaching staff and the players are sitting with at the moment. When you are playing that amount of cricket for that period of time, it's difficult to maintain the standards consistently."
Of South Africa's 15-man squad for the tri-series, nine (including Dean Elgar, who came in as an injury replacement) are Test regulars, eleven were part of the World T20 squad, ten played at the IPL, six are staying on for the CPL, two are headed for county stints and the rest will play for the A side. That means none of the players who are part of the current national set-up have had any time off since October last year and Domingo believes the fatigue is starting to show.
"The desire and the hunger levels when you are playing day in and day out will wane at some stage. There's no doubt about that. You can't give 100% to ten different teams for ten months. Something's got to give," he said.
The something, according to team manager Mohammed Moosajee, could be the no-objection certificates (NOC) CSA issues to players, which allows them to spend what should be time off playing in foreign leagues. "CSA management will need to look at the process going forward, how they release NOCs, taking into account the long international season," Moosajee said.
But the declining Rand has made it difficult to deny NOCs because CSA cannot match the amounts players earn overseas and this has left Domingo and his management team with a problem. "The big challenge for me is making sure that international cricket is still the main priority for our players. There are lot of tournaments, a lot of money to be made, a lot of opportunities for players to get out there and market themselves so I need to be making sure we focus really hard on our No.1 priority and that is representing our country," he said. "Sometimes, if you have done it for a long time, you can take it for granted maybe. There is a lot happening outside international cricket. Making sure guys are fresh and hungry to perform for their country is of utmost importance for me."
Despite admitting he has not been able to do that in the last six months, and that the "sharpness and effectiveness" of the side is "lacking", Domingo remained confident he and his management team are the right people to try and turn things around.
"I've got to sit down with my management team and the board members and the CEO and the guys who make those decisions and plan the way forward. I've got 10 months left on my contract and the last six months haven't gone according to plan. I am not a guy who wants to give up or quit so I need to discuss what their thoughts are," Domingo said. "I've got a few days at home now to just mull over things and see where things are going. I feel that the management team we've got in place have ticked a lot of boxes and provided the players with as much support as we can. We're still very motivated to do well. We feel we can take the team forward. That decision doesn't always lie with us but that's the way it is."
Domingo will take heart from the knowledge that he has one of the most important people in the set-up in his corner. AB de Villiers threw his weight behind the coach after the team's loss in their final round-robin match when he said the players should take responsibility for their own shortcomings. Domingo, however, does not feel the players have let him down.
"I wouldn't say the players have let me down. I'm not a coach who is going to sit here and blame the players for lack of performances. Coaches have to front up and take the brunt of it when performances are not there," he said. "I don't feel let down by players, I feel let down by performances. The results haven't been as good as what we've wanted. I feel the players gave it as much as they possible could."
The coach put South Africa's early exit from the tournament on two moments in particular but stressed this does not mean they don't have what it takes to perform under pressure. "The one was where we needed 96 runs off 15 overs against Australia we were three down and we lost. The batters let us down. Then, in the last game, we had West Indies 21 for 4 after 5 overs and our next 12 overs were very average. We bowled really poorly and allowed West Indies to get some momentum and establish a partnership. Those two phases probably cost us getting into the final and possibly winning the tournament," Domingo said. "But I definitely think the team has got big-match temperament. This team has managed to win some must-win games in ODI and T20 cricket over the last two or three years."
He cited examples like their Mumbai win to take the series against India and their three victories in succession against England at home earlier this year, but acknowledged that those count for nothing because South Africa's cabinet is missing a major trophy.
"Until we win a world event, people will always question us," Domingo said. "There's another opportunity next year. There's a Champions Trophy. There's a lot of work that needs to be done in our one-day side to get us to be contenders for that but, with the players within our ranks, if we can manage them properly and make sure when the time comes they are all fully fit, all swimming in the same direction, we'll be one of the teams to beat there."
Domingo's contract expires before that tournament but if South Africa are to replace him, it is likely they will do so fairly soon to allow the new coach time in charge. With that in mind, has he come home feeling the heat? A little.
"There's always pressure. We know that playing for your country is the ultimate. It's representing the people back home and we want to represent them well. We know how passionate our supporters are and how much time and money and effort gets put into our cricket. Management and players are under pressure to perform at all times."