The Standard Bank Proteas need to continue improving if the sense of pride and joy that surrounds the team today is to remain in the long-term, coach Russell Domingo said upon the squad’s victorious return from their Test series triumph in Australia.
Proteas coach Russell Domingo said on Tuesday upon his return to South Africa that the unity and resilience of the team had been the major factors in their stunning resurgence this year, highlighted by their Test series triumph in Australia.
“It’s been a combination of things and getting a few players back that we have missed a lot, like Vernon Philander and Dale Steyn, has made a massive difference. But the unity amongst the guys and the realisation of how important it is to play for your country has been very important.
“A few players have also come back into form, the team as a whole has got their confidence back, the belief has slowly been coming back, and although we’re not yet where I feel we can be, we’re heading in the right direction. This team prides itself on their resilience and we’re in a good space at the moment. We have to treasure and nurture that because things can change very quickly,” Domingo said at O.R. Tambo International Airport in Johannesburg.
A year ago, Domingo was fighting to keep his job, but a limited-overs series whitewash of Australia and then winning the Test series in their backyard means the 42-year-old is sitting pretty and able to enjoy the contract extension until August 2017 he received last month.
“Coaches, like players, are always learning in terms of preparation and support staff. I don’t know if there have been massive changes in the way we coach, but the players have really stepped up. We still put in the same hours and hours to get the best out of them,” Domingo said.
While praising the captaincy of Faf du Plessis, Domingo reiterated the official position that AB de Villiers will resume as skipper when he returns for the series against Sri Lanka next month.
“Faf has matured in great fashion as a leader and is an outstanding captain. Fortunately he’s found some good form with the bat as well, so he’s able to lead from the front. But the bottom line is that AB is the captain and the status quo is set to remain. He only had two Tests as captain of this side, and he lost one and won one against England, so he needs to have a full crack, with my unstinting support,” Domingo said.
Du Plessis confirmed that he had thoroughly enjoyed the captaincy and described the second day of the first Test in Perth, when the Proteas recovered so magnificently from the huge setback of losing bowling spearhead Dale Steyn, as his best day on a cricket field.
“If there was one specific incident that won us the series, it was the turnaround in Perth. The belief that the team took from that session, sparked by resilience, was out of this world and it took the team to a new level of confidence. It’s probably the best session I’ve been part of on a cricket field, the way everyone stood up after losing Dale, which was incredibly hard, the whole team felt it, but somehow they just made it possible to bounce back.
“I’ve always enjoyed the captaincy, I feel it does bring out the best in me, but AB knows that I am 100% behind him. I’ve learnt a lot about myself as a leader and the great thing is that the team has three guys – myself, Hashim Amla and AB – who have been captains and we are all very similar in the way we want the culture of the team to move forward,” du Plessis said.
The Australian cricket team have arrived in South Africa and are looking forward to getting plenty of knowledge from their five-match ODI series against the Proteas that starts at Centurion next Friday.
That the Australians have at least one eye on the Test series they will host against South Africa in November is borne out by their selection for the ODI matches, with three uncapped pace bowlers included in Daniel Worrall, Joe Mennie and Chris Tremain, leaving John Hastings (23 ODIs) and Scott Boland (10 caps) to lead the attack. Leggie Adam Zampa, who has played just a dozen ODIs, is the frontline spinner.
South Africa, under pressure to arrest their slide to fourth in the ODI rankings, by way of contrast have chosen what is expected to be their Test attack in Australia, minus Vernon Philander.
“We do have quite a turnover of players in our ODI side but that’s because we want to give the Test players a break. The guys handle it very well, they’ve been fantastic, and it allows us to give players chances at this level, we chop and change the bowlers so Steve Smith knows he has a lot of depth in that department.
“We want to make sure everyone gets game time, we’re looking ahead to major championships and players must adapt. There are good reasons for Mitchell Starc and Josh Hazlewood not being here – we have a Test series coming up and we want to give them a break.
“So this ODI series will be a challenge for some good young players and hopefully our fast bowlers can step up. We have pace and swing from the three debutants, John Hastings has done very well for us in the past and Scotty Boland did very well last year,” Australia coach Darren Lehmann said at their Sandton hotel on Wednesday.
“A few of South Africa’s bowling attack are also part of the Test squad so it’s a chance to play against them and hopefully get into rhythm against them. Their batsmen are also generally the same in Tests, so we can learn from bowling at them too,” captain Smith said.
Australia are fresh off a 4-1 ODI series win in Sri Lanka with George Bailey enjoying a prolific series, and with Smith and David Warner the obvious other threats in a strong batting line-up.
Both the captain and coach said South Africa were a top-class side in their own conditions.
“These conditions are probably the most similar to Australia, so it’s not so foreign, generally there’s good pace and bounce. It should be exciting one-day cricket with good scores, I’m sure it will be different to Sri Lanka,” Smith said.
AB de Villiers says he is confident a “culture camp” the wider Proteas squad held last week will give birth to a resurgence in fortunes for the national side, starting with victory over New Zealand in the two-Test series that gets underway in Durban on Friday.
De Villiers is off for six weeks with an elbow injury the most serious of several niggles he is getting right before the season gets into full swing, but he is clearly still playing a powerful leadership role within the team, speaking confidently about how he backs them to beat New Zealand, when he was interviewed at the launch of the series, at which sponsors Sunfoil announced they would be extending their sponsorship of South African Test and first-class cricket for another two years.
“We had a culture camp five days ago where we were brutally honest with each other about where we are as a team and where we would like to see ourselves. We know exactly where we want to go, we had a lot of hard chats about what is wrong, what issues there are, behind our dip in form.
“A big part of our success in the past has been our culture and we revisited our core values, who we play for. I wouldn’t say we’re in a transitional phase because this is still a fantastic team that can beat anyone. I’m really backing our boys, even though the Black Caps are clearly a force to be reckoned with,” De Villiers said.
The Proteas arrived in Durban extra early for the Test and have had twice-daily practice sessions in order to offset their lack of Test cricket, in contrast to New Zealand, who have just enjoyed a convincing 2-0 win in Zimbabwe. De Villiers, however, predicted that it would be South Africa who would set the early pace in the series.
“One thing we really discussed in our camp was throwing the first punch. We’re proud of our ability to come back from all sorts of trouble, but it’s time for us to dominate from the start now and not be scared of being aggressive, of trying things. Hopefully people will get to see that in this series.
“I think New Zealand could be a bit thin in the batting department and if they don’t score big runs they’ll be in trouble. I don’t think they have an advantage from playing Tests recently, all our guys have played enough cricket and it was much more important for us to connect as players at our camp,” De Villiers said.