LONDON - South Africa are about to play England in a series-opening Test at Lord’s. This, as always, is a grand occasion to savour.
But yet just a few days before the action in St John’s Wood there is no talk about the actual cricket. The visitors, desperate to rescue a tour that went spectacularly south during the white-ball component, just can’t seem to focus squarely on the task at hand.
Both captain and coach have returned to South Africa at some point to deal with pressing family matters, which undoubtedly would have exhausted much mental energy. Others meanwhile have observed their mourning period by shaving their heads.
Often professional sportspeople operate within a bubble debarred from the “real world”. This cannot be said of this current Proteas team, who have faced numerous off-field challenges of late.
But at least Monday brought some clarity. Test captain Faf du Plessis will not be back in time to lead the Proteas at Lord’s. Although his wife Imari gave birth to their baby daughter last Thursday, according to team manager and doctor Mohammed Moosajee “the difficult nature of the delivery” meant Du Plessis had to remain in South Africa for a little while longer. Dean Elgar will captain in Du Plessis’ absence, and will become the 12th player since readmission to lead the South African Test team.
Du Plessis took to social media to express his disappointment at missing out on what is likely to be his sole opportunity of playing a Lord’s Test.
Extremely sad that I won't be able 2 front up 2 the challenge with the team.Be there soon.In the meantime I will be their nr1 couch fan https://t.co/cycbvpPt9x
South Africa will undoubtedly miss Du Plessis’s calm leadership and tactical acumen, in addition to his batting, but at least new captain Elgar will have Russell Domingo by his side to guide him through his maiden captaincy Test.
Domingo is back in London after rushing to be at the bedside of his mother, who was involved in a terrible motor vehicle accident last week.
But not only is the 42-year-old back in the Proteas saddle, he is intent on remaining there for a while yet after confirming that he has reapplied and been interviewed to be South Africa’s coach when his contract expires at the end of the England tour.
“I have forwarded my application form and I did go through an interview process,” Domingo confirmed on Monday. “I can’t comment too much further on that because there’s obviously a process that needs to take place now.”
The process involves a five-man panel, appointed by Cricket South Africa that includes two former national coaches, Gary Kirsten and Eric Simons, who are to make their recommendations to the CSA board when they next meet on July 21. A final decision will be announced after the England series, which ends on August 8.
Independent Media understands that South Africa ‘A’ coach Shukri Conrad and Highveld Lions mentor Geoff Toyana have also been interviewed, but Domingo was not willing to speculate on how the board would conduct their affairs.
“It’s not something I go to bed thinking about or wake up in the morning thinking about,” Domingo said. “It’s not something that generally affects me. I can’t comment on what the particular feeling is towards how people are seeing the process. It’s out of my control.
“It’s not the way I see it, and the way I see it is that there’s due process that needs to take place. They need to decide if I’m the right guy to take the team forward and so be it. That’s how it is.”
Regardless of what the CSA Board decides, Domingo does have the full support of the senior players with the national team setup.
“Player support is massively important. The most important support you need is from your players,” Domingo said. “We work with these players day in, day out. I’ve loved my time working with them and, obviously, by the support they’ve shown they’ve enjoyed what we’ve offered the team. That is satisfying.”
Domingo also stated “there’s a lot I’d like to achieve with this side - an ICC event is a big thing for us” and that is no doubt a significant ambition, but for the next couple of weeks the focus needs to be squarely on the red ball and four Tests against some serious opposition.
Who knows, for it might just be the difference between Domingo returning here two years later still at the helm of a group of players ready to have one final crack at a World Cup or - like Du Plessis will be for the next few days - South Africa’s “nr1 couch fan”.