After more than a century, SA cricket gets its first black cricket coach
Harare – It has taken South Africa 124 years, since gaining its Test status, for the Rainbow Nation to invest its trust in the capacity of a black coach to take charge of its senior national cricket team – the world number one-ranked Proteas.
Russell Domingo, a low-key but highly-rated coach, takes over as Proteas’ coach on August 31, 22 years after South Africa were re-admitted to the international cricket family having been kicked out in 1970 because of its apartheid policies.
Domingo, who turns 37 this year, replaces Gary Kirsten, the vastly popular coach who guided India to World Cup victory before coming home to take the Proteas to number one in the Test rankings in the world.
It is a purple patch for the Proteas who on August 28 became the first national side to be ranked number one in the world in all the three formats of the game – Test, One Day International and Twenty20.
Cricket was one of the sports disciplines that helped bowl out apartheid and the desperation of the racist South African governments, to use it in rebel tours that included the West Indies’ infamous visit there, puts into perspective the power of the sport.
Interestingly, it is the last of the three major South African sporting disciplines to have a black coach in charge after both football, which is predominantly a black sport there, and rugby have both led the way.
For all its black colour, one of the game’s finest moments came in 1996 when Bafana Bafana, under the guidance of a white coach, Clive Baker, powered their way to victory in the African Nations Cup finals on home soil.
In January 2008, South African rugby, which used to be the sporting face of apartheid, broke a century tradition by appointing its first black coach of the Springboks, Peter de Villiers, in an appointment, which the game’s bosses conceded was influenced by the transition happening in the country.
Oregan Hoskins, who had secured the vote to become South African Rugby Union president in 2006 and then oversaw the World Cup triumph a year later, said De Villiers’ rugby credentials were not the only motivation for their decision to hand him the job.
“We have made the appointment and taken into account the issue of transformation when we made it,” said Hoskins. “I don’t think that tarnishes Peter: I’m being honest with our country.” De Villiers did not win the World Cup, losing narrowly to Australia in the quarterfinals, but he won 17 of his 27 matches as Springbok coach, enjoyed a 62 percent winning record and, impressively, a 57 percent winning record against the team that South Africa measures itself against – the AlI-Blacks.
He became the first coach, since Nick Mallet, to record a 100 percent winning run in a calendar year for the Springboks in 2009 and the first coach, since Nelie Smith, to secure a series victory against the British and Irish Lions.
In January 2008, De Villiers became the first Springbok coach to guide the team to victory over the All-Blacks in the House of Pain in Dunedin.
Former Springbok captain, Corne Krige, who famously predicted that “we have seven lean years ahead” in the wake of De Villiers’ appointment, was left to eat humble pie as the black coach performed as well as his white counterparts.
But Krige isn’t the only one who questions the value of black coaches in sporting organisations that were a preserve for the whites.
There will be many who will question Domingo’s appointment, especially if the Proteas begin to show signs of wear and tear on the Test arena after having won series in England and Australia under the careful hand of Kirsten.
That Domingo does not have a career in the game as a player to back his appointment, and authority to impose his tactics on some of the big names in the world of cricket, will be a weapon that will be used by his critics when things start showing they are going off the rails.
It is a difficult job, by all accounts, because the Proteas are on top of the world right now and, probably, Kirsten knew that there is only one way now – going downwards – and decided to leave while the paint is still fresh.
Age could be catching up with some of the stalwarts of the team, who have kept it going all this time, and Jacques Kallis, the world-class all-rounder who is one of the greatest players of his generation, will miss the Champions Trophy in England after asking the selectors not to consider him “for personal reasons”.
Captain Graeme Smith will also miss the Champions Trophy to undergo surgery.
While Kirsten’s tenure was marked by remarkable success for the Proteas, it was also a period when the advancement of black players into the team stalled and it was not made any better by Makhaya Ntini’s comments questioning the selection process.
Ntini said there was an alleged preference of “white” bowlers for the Proteas after Faf du Plessis was called in, during the tour of Australia, to replace JP Duminy ahead of Thami Tsolekile.
“Tsolekile would have been playing if he was white,” said Ntini in his hard-hitting remarks. “People will say we are talking politics but we need to say these things.
“I don’t understand how we can have one black cricketer in our (Test) squad. What’s going on? In the whole squad – one!”
That one black cricketer has to be Vernon Philander who has been a revelation as a new ball bowler for South Africa in Test cricket.
Kirsten dismissed suggestions that the issue of black players, or race, had played a part in his decision to leave.
“No, that has nothing to do with it,” he told ESPN cricinfo. “I've given my reasons and those are 100 percent.”
His official reasons are that he wants to spend more time with his young family and his kids, Joshua, James and daughter Joana, are all under 10 years and need to see their father regularly in the house than seeing him in the newspapers and on television while on tour.
“Last year, I had 250 days away from Cape Town, my home,” said Kirsten. “I believe my absentia as a father is compromising my responsibilities to my family.
“I've just had five weeks at home now, which is the longest period I have had there for a few years and I began to realise the impact my absence as a father has had on my family.”
Interestingly, Domingo gave Kirsten his first coaching job when he was still at the Warriors in 2006 and when he became Proteas coach, he remembered his old mate and asked him to join him in the national team set-up.
Now Domingo is set to be the boss.
“I have been coaching for 16 years now, since I was 22 years old,” said Domingo, who has a degree in sports administration and marketing.
“Playing and coaching are two totally different scenarios. I’ve developed a good rapport with my players and I’ve gone through all the stages a coach needs to go through – rightfully so because I haven’t got the playing credentials.
“I need to try and do a lot of things Gary (Kirsten) has done but also to bring my own flavour to it. I’m still very much in the planning stage as to how I want to take this team forward. I’ve got a lot of thinking to do in the next few weeks.
“I’d be an absolute fool not to use Gary in some capacity as much as I possibly can. Gary and I have a really good working relationship.”
While the goalposts are changing in South Africa, it is a different story in Zimbabwe where Steven Mangongo has just made history as the first black coach to guide their national team in a Test match during the series against Bangladesh.
But Mangongo was only a stop-gap measure and now passes the baton to a white gaffer Andy Waller, the former Zimbabwe batsman, while he drops to being the assistant coach.
“Waller takes over the reins at a time when the demands on our performance are very high,” Zimbabwe Cricket board chairman, Peter Chingoka, said.
“We are confident that the strategy he presented to us and his unique style of coaching will yield positive results.”