Two years ago, Russell Domingo walked into a room at Montecasino oblivious of what was expected of him. “How do these things work? I was just told to put on my finest suit and be on time. There’s a lot of media waiting inside there, this is the big time.”
Domingo was being unveiled as assistant coach alongside Gary Kirsten (head coach) and Allan Donald (bowling coach) as part of the new Proteas management. It sure was “the big time” for Domingo, especially having previously spent his entire playing and coaching career down in Port Elizabeth, where he knew every member of the press contingent not only on a first-name basis, but also their extended family.
The spotlight, though, was fortunately not on Domingo. It was on Kirsten and Donald, and it was the two South African playing legends that the media were interested in. In fact, one journalist even asked: “Who is the guy on the left?”
After two years as Kirsten’s deputy, there are certainly not many who don’t know Domingo now.
And those who remain in the dark about the 38-year-old from Gelvandale are definitely aware now that Domingo was named as Kirsten’s successor as the Proteas coach just 24 hours after the former Test opener opted not to renew his initial contract last week.
“Those kinds of things don’t bother me. In fact, I prefer it that way. I am a very understated, a simple kind of guy.
“I believe in just going about your business quietly and focusing on your own work,” Domingo told the CapeTimes this week. “I know the lights will be on me now. That’s the difference between being the assistant and the head coach.
“Working under Gary, I could do my own thing and help the team without much attention being focused on me. But I’ve been a head coach before, and I know what the responsibilities are.
“I also had a taste of it with the national T20 side, and it just got the juices flowing again in terms of the accountability, more than anything else, that goes with it.”
The task awaiting Domingo is no small one. It is not as if he is taking over a side that is battling its way up the Test ladder, like Mickey Arthur did with the bumbling Australians. The gold ICC mace, handed over to the No 1 Test side in the world, sits comfortably in Cricket South Africa’s plush offices in Illovo, and it will be Domingo’s duty to ensure it remains there.
The biggest favour Kirsten could do for Domingo before he goes off to do the school run in the mornings from Constantia to Rondebosch would be to win the ICC Champions Trophy next month to finally rid the Proteas of that seemingly never-ending major tournament curse.
However, these are the tangible matters. There has already been scepticism over the “hastiness” of Domingo’s appointment, with questions being asked about why CSA did not delay the process in order to approach “bigger names” such as Andy Flower, Graham Ford or Stephen Fleming.
While there may be nothing sinister regarding those questions, the fact is that Domingo is South Africa’s first national cricket coach of colour.
Despite it being 22 years since unity, he will face the same prejudices that former Springbok coach Peter de Villiers encountered during his reign.
In addition, the fact that Domingo hails from the Eastern Cape, the hotbed of black cricket in South Africa, will place extra pressure on him to accelerate CSA’s transformation programme, especially in relation to black Africans.
“Look … I am a coloured guy. I know that and I am immensely proud of my community, the school I attended and the people who helped me get to where I am today,” Domingo said sternly. “I don’t see myself, though, as a coloured cricket coach. I am a cricket coach. And I hope people will see me as just that.
“But I am also fully aware that there will be people who will view me as a coloured cricket coach. Hopefully with time, they will see I am just a cricket coach, trying to help players win games for South Africa.
“CSA and the Eastern Province Cricket Union have invested a lot in me. Not just now, but from a young age where I was sent on coaching courses, given opportunities to be around the national team, like when Gary and Hansie (Cronjé) were still playing under Bob Woolmer. I also spent time with Hylton Ackerman, who was really good value. I think that’s what development is about.”
It certainly seems that Domingo has a solid grounding, without major ego issues. It is a characteristic that was the fibre of Kirsten’s succcesful coaching philosophy, although he did have the gravitas of playing 101 Test matches for South Africa that earned him automatic respect in the Proteas dressing room.
Domingo doesn’t hold an entry pass into the exclusive “Test club” like Kirsten or Donald for that matter, but he doesn’t have a chip on his shoulder either because of its absence. He simply admits “I wasn’t really ever good enough”, and got on with the job of becoming the best possible coach he could be.
“I watch a lot of cricket, and do pay close attention to all the numbers that goes with it. I think I may actually just have a good memory, because I remember a lot of stuff that other guys forget, whether it is about the opposition or our own players.
“I think when you start out as a coach, you focus a lot on improving your technical ability. You read a lot of books, watch a lot of videos, speak to a lot of people. At a lower level, your technical know-how is key in getting you through the ranks.
“Higher up, there is a greater focus on man-management. I would like to think I have improved in this area of my coaching the longer I have been doing it. I certainly learnt a lot about this during Gary’s reign, and like I have said, there are good structures in the national team, which I will look to continue and enhance where I can,” Domingo explained.