Sport

Cricket: Old dogs, new tricks

By Antoinette Muller 18 July 2013

Russell Domingo is the man tasked with teaching old dogs new tricks as he takes charge of his first tour as head coach. From ensuring that there’s no slacking with fitness to finding a winning combination, even if that means moving away from SA’s usual conservatism, Domingo won’t be short of challenge on his first tour, even if it is without a prized Test series. BY ANTOINETTE MULLER.

While The Ashes rages on, South Africa has hopped over to Sri Lanka for an ODI and T20 series. Get ready for words like “new dawn”, “first test” and “changing times” as Russell Domingo takes charge of the team in his new position as head coach for the first time.

For once, though, those clichés have a place. It’s been a decade since South Africa lost one a one-day game in Sri Lanka. They last toured the country in 2004 and lost the ODI series 5-0. The current tour was originally supposed to include a Test series, too, but that was postponed due to the Sri Lankan Premier League. That competition has been cancelled since then, a frustrating development for the world’s number one ranked Test team.

Without a Test section of the tour, it might not seem as if though there is an awful lot resting on the visit, but the stakes are high, not just for Domingo, but the players too.

With the 2015 ODI World Cup and the 2014 T20 World Cup in sight, both coach and players have to find combinations and tactics which work. Domingo has to identify a core group of players he can nurture and help grown with two big competitions coming up. Gary Kirsten’s tenure involved a revolving door of ever-changing players, allowing very little time for anyone to settle.

Domingo has vowed to change all that as he looks to assemble a unit which can stand the test of time. Or, at least, the test of a World Cup looming in the future. He also has to change the culture in the one-day set up. The Test team has taken care of itself, but the shorter format sides have never had time to settle. Players drifted in and out of the team and even when some have slacked, they’ve been allowed to get away with it.

Lonwabo Tsotsobe failed his fitness test prior to the tour, but was approved for selection anyway. He should have been left on the sidelines along with Dale Steyn, but instead he was posted on the plane to Sri Lanka. Cricket South Africa insisted that their squad was fully fit, but Tsotsobe didn’t partake in the Proteas warm-up clash on Wednesday.

But Tsotsobe isn’t the only one who has had issues. Fitness has been a concern for the one-day team since the Champions Trophy. Once again, a number of players reportedly failed their fitness tests before the competition, but were given the go-ahead anyway. That kind of lax attitude might not have been the sole reason for their failure in the competition, but it certainly contributed. Under Kirsten, the preparation of the one-day team took a back seat while flirting with experimentation took priority. Domingo is tasked with getting the culture back to top level. He also has to convince players like Alviro Petersen that he has a future in the shorter format.

Plucked from the comfort of his county during the Champions Trophy, Petersen was selected as the replacement opener for Graeme Smith during the competition. Instead of making use of his experience and the form he was in, Petersen was instead relegated to the role of drinks carrier. It is up to Domingo to ensure that players like Petersen do not lose faith in the selection system. Domingo has been given the role of selector, along with the role of coach, and will have more input in what kind of team is put out to play in the middle.

Petersen played in the Proteas warm-up game and scored 43 at the top of the order. JP Duminy slotted in at three, notching up 92 and even picked up two wickets. So bold were South Africa in their selection for the warm-up game that they even opted for two spinners. That is a logical move on a sub-continental track, but one which might have seem far too forward thinking under the Kirsten regime.

Domingo’s strength lies in his tactical ability. He reads the game and conditions incredibly well and he has a good cricketing brain. He thinks differently in his approach and he views even the hit and giggle stuff as a challenge to monetise the squad he has, playing to every player’s strengths.

Aaron Phangiso, the left-arm spinner who hasn’t quite made as big of an impact as many might have hoped, got his chance to test himself in the conditions and he got his rewards. He took two wickets for 39 runs in his nine overs. Alongside Robin Peterson, who picked up three wickets for 37, the pair could provide some real impetus for the Proteas on the tour.

There is no slacking with Domingo. He opted for a List-A fixture as a warm-up, meaning all the figures count, instead of the often “play as many as you like” practice game. It’s but a first taste of what one can expected under the new coach and while there are many old dogs around, the Eastern Cape man seems dead set on teaching them some new tricks. DM

Photo: South Africa’s captain AB de Villiers (L) talks with Sri Lanka’s captain Angelo Mathews after a news conference for upcoming One Day International (ODI) cricket series with Sri Lanka in Colombo July 16,2013. REUTERS/Dinuka Liyanawatte

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