Sport

Proteas split coaching approach: a breath of fresh air

By Ant Sims 10 December 2012

The Proteas have opted to split the coaching responsibility for the upcoming summer, with Russell Domingo taking charge of the T20 team. It’s a refreshing approach for what has traditionally been an overly conservative brains trust. By ANT SIMS.

Just like England has opted for a split-level management of their Test and short-format teams, South Africa has handed over the reins of the T20 side to Russell Domingo for the coming summer.

South Africa will play three T20s against New Zealand in December and two against Pakistan in March, as part of a busy summer schedule. Domingo, who joined the coaching staff when Gary Kirsten took over the reins in June last year, has a solid coaching record. He was part of the Warriors before joining the national side, and during his tenure, he led the Port Elizabeth outfit to the domestic limited overs double and took them to the final of the T20 Champions League. For Domingo, the opportunity offers a chance to fulfil his dream and use the launch pad set by Kirsten to take the T20 side forward.

“I’m extremely honoured and excited about coaching the T20 squad. Coaching at the highest level has always been a goal of mine, and I’m looking forward to building on the foundation we have set for this format,” Domingo said.

“I have enjoyed working with Gary since he took charge, and I am determined to ensure that we continually improve in this format and continue to cultivate a successful team culture and environment.”

Cricket commentator and former player Pommie Mbwangwa believes the opportunity will provide Domingo with the chance to make a part of the team his own.

“It’s an excellent opportunity for Domingo, because being the assistant coach is often a tricky position. If the team does badly, it’s your fault; if the team does well, you don’t get any credit. It’s a horrible position to be in. It does put him under a bit of pressure. He has been given a side to work with and do well with, and if he doesn’t, they might look somewhere else,” Mbwangwa told The Daily Maverick. 

It’s an innovative step forward for a previously conservative South African side, and it’s a good move, not just because it allows Kirsten to focus on the Test side and give him a little bit more time with his family. It also fits in with the way T20 cricket is progressing. 

The shortest format of the game struggled to find its own identity at inception but since then, it has flourished into a supplement to run alongside the Test format – a supplement which is needed to not only bankroll the longer format of the game, but also to help draw new eyeballs to cricket, which in turn will, of course, generate more money. 

T20 is often brushed aside as being worthless, “not real cricket” and a hindrance to Test cricket, but to assume that is grossly naïve and somewhat arrogant. While the two formats are vastly different and most players admit that Test cricket remains the ultimate format of the game, the two need each other in order to allow the ecosystem of cricket to blossom into a sustainable venture. 

While it’s unlikely that national T20 teams will be franchised and globalised any time soon, truncating their management and focusing on specialised, younger players to make their mark on the format is a good step forward. The coach will get to know all the players better and he’ll be able to focus on individual strengths and weaknesses as well as plan strategies more carefully according to those individuals.

When T20 first came to the fore, the general idea was that there was no strategy involved, but that has changed a lot since then. Mbwangwa, who has been commentating since 2006, has seen the change in thinking.

“I think T20 has changed in the sense of teams realising that if they use the guys who fill specialist roles really well, they have the most success. You might need somebody who is hard hitting at the top of the order, and if he can be destructive and bat for 12 overs, then the team will do well. [It] is up to the coach to find out what works,” Mbwangwa said.

Kirsten has made no secret of the fact that the Proteas are looking to move towards a more specialist T20 unit. This means players who recently stood out in the Champions League T20 could very well find their way into the set-up. Players like Aaron Phangiso, who excelled with the ball, and Gulam Bodi, who stood out with the bat, could squeeze their way into the side for the summer. 

“I have worked closely with Russell over the past 18 months and I’m confident he will do a great job. He fully understands the Proteas’ culture and will be able to build that culture with the new crop of T20 players we will be blooding this season,” said Kirsten.

Nothing harnesses interest quite like a winning side, and while the Proteas have dominated world cricket in the Test arena this year, the longest format of the game might still seem rather laboured to those new to the game. Especially when AB de Villiers and Faf du Plessis combine to score 32 runs in 29 overs, setting the foundation to save a Test match. 

Cricket has never been the number one sport in the country, and while it’s unlikely to ever reach that level, it’s important to ensure that new generations maintain interest. South African management is doing exactly what’s needed to keep up with the trends.

As it stands, Domingo will have his work cut out for him to help blood a bunch of rookies, but at least Cricket South Africa is showing that it’s not afraid to take a few risks, even if those risks could go horribly awry. DM

Photo: South Africa’s Robin Peterson (2nd L) is congratulated after dismissing England’s captain Alastair Cook during the third one-day international cricket match at the Kia Oval cricket ground in London August 31, 2012. REUTERS/Philip Brown 

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