Cape Town – The Proteas could hardly have been faring any better results-wise over the past six months.
It is a far cry from when they looked such a motley, debilitated crew by the middle of 2016, following early exit from a triangular one-day international series in the Caribbean, another failed major-tournament quest (the ICC World Twenty20 in India), a home Test series loss to England and away thumping in that format by the Indians.
But the turnaround of the national side in the two most relevant landscapes - Tests and ODIs - has been nothing short of startling ... making it seem an especially jarring development that head coach Russell Domingo now knows, almost seven months before the completion of his current contract period, that he will have to reapply for the post.
South Africa were smack in the midst of handing out another ruthless, polished thrashing to Sri Lanka in Port Elizabeth on Saturday, the first of five ODIs, when Cricket South Africa issued a curveball to the media.
Buried at the bottom of a release indicating various, mostly domestic structural intentions going forward, was a signalling of “commencement of the recruitment process” for appointment of the head coach for the period following completion in mid-August of the major tour of England.
Whilst officials later confirmed that Domingo “could apply” for an extension himself, the message nevertheless seemed pretty clear that a new figure is sought in the hot seat.
If there was, instead, a groundswell of support from within the CSA corridors for him to stay, it came across as a strange development that he should know he might have to reconstruct his CV and present a fresh battle-plan even as he still faces further multi-format tours of New Zealand and England, plus the far-from-trifling matter of a Champions Trophy in the interim.
For confidence in what you are doing, it is roughly akin to placing a grenade, rather than a gleaming medal, in the possession of some high-performing Olympic athlete.
And high-performing is certainly what Domingo has been doing, at least in the all-important results column, ironically going such a long way in recent months to routing his (much more rightful, then?) knockers at the end of the 2015/16 season.
Say what you like about his qualities or drawbacks as an individual, the current Proteas look about as well-drilled, motivated and consistent as at any other stage of the post-isolation era right now.
If you wanted to be ultra-cynical, and were clearly no fan of Domingo for whatever the reasons, you might try to venture that the national side is excelling “despite” the coach … but how often does that phenomenon realistically apply, when you think about it more deeply?
Given the broad effervescence of the Proteas, it is difficult not to believe that Domingo has the dressing room, as they say.
So unless an extraordinary amount of foresight has accompanied CSA’s decision, and they simply wish to cast the net as widely, professionally and open-mindedly as possible for “who takes us through to CWC 2019?”, the expression “spanner in the works” - and perhaps a dangerously needless one at this juncture - comes rather glaringly to mind.
Or have there been some delicately-covered bust-ups or personality clashes behind the scenes to spark this oddly-timed CSA step?
Whatever the truth, Domingo quickly earned the sympathy of one at least one former colleague in franchise coaching in South Africa, Dave Nosworthy, who tweeted (@DONCRICKET): “The principle BOGGLES my mind! Why on earth EVER advertise a person’s position when they’re still in position?”
Since the Proteas bounced off the ropes, as it were, in August last year, a winning culture and exemplary standard of play have become more deeply-rooted than the greatest optimists could have imagined.
In a nutshell, they have seen off (and more often near-pulverised) all bilateral comers.
In the specific period, Domingo has overseen 14 victories in 18 international matches - a win strike rate of 77.78 percent.
There is one draw (a Test match against the Black Caps in Durban which hardly got out of the blocks due to weather issues) and only three reverses.
Of that trio of losses, one was a dead-rubber Test after they had memorably won the series in Australia, and the other two were very recently at the hands of Sri Lanka in the lightweight T20 portion of the tour – and with the Proteas fielding all but a “second XI” as they chose the opportunity to experiment liberally, a policy I supported at the time and still do.
Take out that three-match diversion, which also came at a pretty meaningless time in world T20 terms, and Domingo would have presided over 13 wins from 15 fixtures (Test and ODI) this season - 86.67 as a win percentage figure.
Of the six wins in the connoisseurs’ format of Tests in the period in question, the “tightest” margin of victory has been by 177 runs - the first clash against the Baggy Greens in Perth.
With Saturday’s crushing ODI triumph in Domingo’s beloved home stomping ground - expect a few more over the ‘Lankans in the next couple of weeks, too? - the Proteas made it 10 wins on the trot in home-staged ODIs.
This is an achievement last equalled by them in a period between 2007/08 and 2008/09, and then most of the opponents were weaker (Kenya, Bangladesh, West Indies and New Zealand).
Come on, CSA ... aren’t you duty-bound to tell a bemused public a bit more on this subject?
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