It has become something of a cliché for a new coach coming into a team to say they want to give their players the licence to express themselves, but the DP World Lions’ new mentor, Russell Domingo, is experienced enough to know that playing with freedom has to come from a skills-base that enables it.
That is why when the Lions squad returned to the DP World Wanderers on Tuesday, August 1, for the first official pre-season training session, it became the start of something of a skills audit for Domingo.
“Everyone wants to say that they’re going to play aggressive or positive cricket, but it very much depends on the make-up of the personnel you have,” Domingo said.
“I’m not going to dictate a certain game-plan until I’ve seen the skills available in the squad. I haven’t watched too much domestic cricket recently because I’ve been overseas, but I know the DP World Lions have a really good set-up. Guys like Josh Richards, Mitchell van Buuren and Nqaba Peter, I haven’t seen them play before.
“So there’s got to be clarity first on what we have in the squad before I go out and say we’re going to play a certain way,” Domingo said.
The one thing the well-travelled coach has no doubt about though is that there is plenty of talent at his disposal. While many South African cricket fans have periodic blues over the state of the game in this country, Domingo says the sea is not more turquoise overseas.
The 48-year-old was the head coach of the Proteas from 2013 to 2017, leading them to semi-finals in both the 50-over and T20 World Cups, and Bangladesh from 2019 to 2022, as well as assisting the Netherlands earlier this year, so he is no greenhorn when it comes to how cricket looks around the world.
He says South African cricket enjoys some precious advantages over other countries.
“South African cricket has a lot of challenges but it is still a fantastic environment, in terms of the facilities, the quality of players and the structures we have. We should all be more appreciative of what we’ve got.
“When you’ve been in the system for a while, you can take things for granted a bit and be hyper-critical, but I can tell you South African cricket is well ahead of the curve globally.
“And there’s got to be an element of patience with the national team, people have got to be realistic. They have lost a massive generation of players, six of the best batsmen in the world all at the same time,” Domingo said.
The Eastern Cape product was never a stone-hearted coach, always being the sympathetic mentor who would never shout and scream at players but encourage them to think for themselves. But patience is something Domingo believes he has more of since he last coached in South Africa.
“As a coach, I’ve become more patient because I was in a system that was not as privileged as ours. My coaching style is not just about results, but also developing people. I’ve now done a lot more coaching at the highest level and I’ve been fortunate to work with iconic players in both South Africa and Bangladesh.
“I’ve seen how they go about their business – both good and bad. I’ve improved my management of senior players, having dealt with some big personalities, especially in the sub-continent. Hopefully I can teach the Lions players how to be good senior players and not just focus on their games but also developing leadership,” Domingo said.
Hashim Amla is one of the most iconic cricketers the world has seen and a tremendous example of how a senior player should lead from the front, and the announcement this week that he will be Domingo’s batting coach is great news for the highly-talented batsmen in the DP World Lions stable.