Phil Russell will begin a second stint at KwaZulu-Natal's coach in 2004-05, it was announced today.

Russell, who played 170 matches for Derbyshire and also coached them, takes over from the West Indian Eldine Baptiste, who became an increasingly unpopular figure with the players over the course of his three seasons in charge. Baptiste's tenure was preceded by Russell's first - two-season - period as coach, in which he led the Dolphins from eighth place in the first-class SuperSport Series in 1998-99 to the one-day Standard Bank Cup title in 2000-01. Russell was widely credited with laying the foundations for KwaZulu-Natal's triumph in both the one-day and first-class competitions in 2001-02.

Graham Ford,the former South African national coach, was widely tipped to get the job, but his insistence on continuing to run his private coaching academy was unacceptable to the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union (KZNCU). "We were willing for him to retain ownership of his academy, with a manager in place," said Sathie Govender, the KZNCU president, who admitted that Ford had been the union's first choice. "Unfortunately he needed this to be a part-time position. The coach of the Dolphins is an important position, and we can't afford for it to be a part-time one."

Russell spent most of June in England on holiday, and returned home this week to a pleasant surprise. "I'm quite excited, actually," Russell said. "They've given me a new lease on life. When I went on holiday to England, it seemed that Fordie was going to get it. When I came back, circumstances had changed.

"The president [Govender] asked me if I would do it, and I thought about it for half a second."

Russell, who has served KwaZulu-Natal cricket as groundsman, director of playing affairs and academy manager, has signed a two-year deal, and will bring a far lighter touch than Baptiste, whose perceived inflexibility cost him his job. KwaZulu-Natal reached the SuperSport Series final in 2003-04, but were thrashed by 108 runs by Western Province. They finished eighth in the Standard Bank Cup, and fifth in the inaugural Standard Bank Pro20 Series.

That record prompted Dale Benkenstein to resign the captaincy after eight years in charge. He has been replaced by 21-year-old Hashim Amla. "I'm ecstatic about that," Amla said of Russell's appointment. "He has so much experience, and I'm really looking forward to working with him. I have the highest admiration and respect for him, and I'm quite sure he'll do a great job."