Russell Domingo wants to bring back consistency to the South Africa line-up, which will return home from a third successive series triumph in Australia this week. Under Domingo’s watch, South Africa slipped from No. 1 to No. 7 on the Test rankings last summer, but have now begun to climb. They are at No. 5 currently, and Domingo admitted there’s still a “great deal of work” to be done, beginning with the batting.
“We haven’t had players in a consistent run of form. A guy like Quinton de Kock is the one guy who has contributed in just about every single game over the last couple of months. Other guys have sporadically performed,” Domingo said.
De Kock was South Africa’s highest run-scorer in the three-Test series, with a century and two fifties to his name. Those innings formed a part of a run of five consecutive Test scores of fifty or more in a year that has seen de Kock come of age. In seven Tests in 2016, de Kock averages 65.44. In 17 ODIs, he averages 57.13, and in seven T20Is, he averages 32.71. It is, by far, his best year as an international cricketer yet.
The same cannot be said of some of South Africa’s senior players. Hashim Amla has endured a torrid time over the last four away Test tours in which he averages 16.64, while Faf du Plessis and JP Duminy took turns being dropped last season, and the opening pair has yet to settle. Five of South Africa’s top seven scored centuries in the Australia series, but none of them did so more than once, and when AB de Villiers returns – he is pencilled in to come back for the Test series against Sri Lanka at home – there is expected to be competition for places.
“AB de Villiers is one of the best in the world. He’s the current captain of the squad. Obviously, I need to sit with the selectors and plot the way forward, but I’m assuming he’ll come straight back into the side and somebody will need to make way for him,” Domingo said.
As things stands, one of du Plessis or Duminy looks likeliest to miss out, but there has also been talk of moving another player into the opening spot to make room for de Villiers. Domingo did not seem sold on playing batsmen out of position or making knee-jerk changes, but he acknowledged that South Africa do have a problem of plenty. “We’re a pretty settled batting line-up. Rilee Rossouw has been around the squad for a period of time. He has been here and he’s the next batsman in as far as we’re concerned, but you’ve got to be fair to players,” he said. “I know a lot of people might have been questioning Stephen Cook, but you’ve got to give him an opportunity. It was a similar thing we did with Stiaan van Zyl. You can’t just play him for two or three games, and if he’s not in form, you get rid of the guy. So, you’ve got to give guys an extended run to find some form, particularly when you’ve got belief in them.”
De Villiers’ return also raises the question of captaincy, which has bubbled throughout the Australia series. Du Plessis looked an assured leader, the team took to him, and there have been calls from the outside for him to stay on. The message from the South African camp is that de Villiers remains their commander-in-chief, and Domingo echoed that, although he also praised du Plessis. “As far as I know, the status quo will remain – AB de Villiers is the guy that’s in charge, and once fit, he will come back into the side,” Domingo said. “Faf has been outstanding. The team has supported him throughout. He’s a very team-focused person, he’s a very self-driven person and he has done an outstanding job over the last couple of weeks. I think everybody in the change room is very proud of what he has achieved.”
Similarly, there is a lot of pride in South Africa. With the national rugby side in decline, the cricketers have given their countrymen something unexpectedly large to cheer. Few saw this coming after South Africa limped through the previous season. Even fewer thought Domingo would continue, but he has proved himself to be the right man for the job, one that he will keep until the end of the England series next August. Domingo did not take any aim at those who doubted him, while also being careful not to get carried away with the change in fortunes.
“I’ve always said it’s not about me. It’s about the team and the players and how the team plays. If I’m the right guy for the job, I am. If I’m not, I’m not. That’s the bottom line,” he said.
“We won seven games in a row against Australia. That doesn’t happen too often. The margins are so small between success and failure. You can’t think you’re the best side in the world when you’re winning, and you can’t think you’re the worst in the world when you lose. It’s the same with coaching – you can’t think you’re the best in the world when you’ve won a few games, and you can’t think you’re the worst coach in the world when you’ve lost a few games. You’ve got to keep a balance and you’ve got to keep perspective, and you’ve got to keep the focus on things you can control.”