Russell Domingo became Bangladesh's head coach at a difficult time after the 2019 World Cup. Then things got even worse. Bangladesh went down to Afghanistan in a home Test after Domingo took over, before they lost both the T20I and Test series in India. Furthermore, their best player, Shakib al Hasan, was banned from all cricket for two years, with one year of that sentence suspended, for failing to report a corrupt approach. Now, ahead of a busy 2020 which will see them play several Tests and a World Cup T20, Domingo speaks to ESPNcricinfo about his ideas for the overall development of a team that is very competitive in ODIs, but not as good in Tests and T20Is.
Challenging year ahead?
Exciting year ahead. I think we have got eight Test matches (10 scheduled). Big T20 World Cup coming up. Some good T20I tours also. It is a busy year, but very exciting.
How do you tell the players to focus on a fresh year after a difficult 2019?
I have been part of a team that has had disappointments at the World Cup. Often, it takes a team a while to overcome it, to refocus and set new goals. Maybe that's what this team has gone through. But look, in my time, particularly in the T20Is, I have seen big strides already.
I think the main priority for us is to establish a Test culture and a Test style of play. It is the big challenge for this team. I see the BCB have put a big emphasis on Test matches by raising the match fees. It is massive, not just for the Test players but also for the guys that are not in the Test side, to want to play Test cricket, to make sure they are not just focusing on leagues and T20s. Hopefully it will allow for some new players to come through the system.
At the same time, you will have to build the T20 team. How do you do it without Shakib, one of the best T20 players in the world?
It is a challenge as Shakib would have bowled four overs and batted No 3 for you. We have a lot of batters in the team who can bowl. We are making sure that they execute and perform as well as Shakib did. So, I think we have got the resources to do it. The challenge is for the guys to perform as consistently as Shakib.
You fought hard in the T20Is against India, but then the Test series happened. Are you the sort of coach who tells players to forget the bad games?
There's no doubt that we have to learn from it. We were very competitive in the T20Is. We probably should have won the third game. [Mohammad] Naim played really well. Then we were disappointing in the Tests. We are a better team than that. India are a fantastic side, and they challenged our batters throughout the series. It was a good learning curve for a lot of our players and coaches.
Playing against quality fast bowlers on wickets that offer a little bit highlighted how much work needed to be done with our batting line-up under those conditions. A lot of learning and reflection needs to take place because we want to get better.
We can't just sweep it under the rug. We have to address certain issues and structural changes in our team. Different balance, maybe different personnel in certain positions.
Do you take that confidence gained from the T20I series against India with you to Pakistan later this month?
There's been a gradual improvement and understanding about how we want to play our T20 cricket. It is not just a slogathon. We are definitely developing a better strategy in our T20 format. But we can take some confidence from our last T20 performance against Afghanistan, Zimbabwe and India. Pakistan is the No 1 side in the world, and a good test to see how far we have come. Hopefully we can unearth another one or two young players like Naim.
What prompted you and the selectors to go back to the experienced bowlers like Al-Amin Hossain and Shafiul Islam?
I always think you got to have some experience with your bowling line-up. You can go with youth and exuberance with the batting line-up, to a certain degree, but you got to have some experienced bowlers. Batters can win you the odd game but bowlers win you games and tournaments in T20 cricket. So it is important that we go back to those experienced bowlers who did a good job for us in India.
You have Tamim Iqbal, Mushfiqur Rahim and Mahmudullah as batting experience but how do you replace Shakib, the spinner?
Young Biplob [Aminul Islam] has come in. I like having a young wristspinner in our team. I think it gives us a bit of X-factor. A little bit of mystery. Something different. The legspinner might go for a few runs but he has the ability to get a wicket. Guys like Afif [Hossain], Mahmudullah and Mosaddek [Hossain] have to find ways to keep it tight. It is important that the other spinners play that defensive role for us, to allow Biplob to do his thing.
Dan Vettori [Vettori] is working with the spinners. The players have responded well to him, so his experience is very handy for us in this format.
Bangladesh's pace bowlers are well behind the rest of the world in Tests. Now without Charl Langeveldt, does that make your job harder?
Losing Charl isn't great, considering he built up a good relationship with some of the bowlers. Whilst the numbers may not be great yet, we are excited by the energy and work ethic shown by the guys in the last two months. Guys like Ebadat [Hossain] and Rahi [Abu Jayed] have done everything we have asked them in terms of their workloads, fitness and conditioning.
Hopefully, whoever the next bowling coach is, will continue the development of those bowlers. I think it has a lot to do with the number of overs the guys get to bowl, and getting used to bowling long spells, and three or four spells in a day. It is still a work in progress but if we throw guys like Ebadat, Al-Amin, Rahi, Khaled [Ahmed] and Taskin [Ahmed] into the mix, we are starting to develop a group of five or six bowlers who can take us forward. [Hasan] Mahmud is another exciting prospect. We need a group of five or six fast bowlers to play Test cricket for us any time. It is a long Test season for us.
Will the three T20Is in Pakistan give you an idea about what's ahead for you as far as the T20 World Cup is concerned?
I am at this stage now when I want to give less players more game time. I have looked at a few options, but I want to start sifting down. If Naim will open for us in the T20 World Cup, he has to open for us in all these games going forward, to give him as much opportunity to develop and get experienced. We want to start settling on a group of players from this series to the T20 World Cup.
How will you balance the three formats in the coming year?
I think it is important that we try to differentiate certain squads, and have group of players for Tests and white-ball cricket. It keeps coaches very driven to develop the players. I love cricket, I love coaching, I love being with teams, so doing all three formats suits me fine. It gives me an understanding how the guys will develop from Test match to T20s, or from T20s to Test match.
What are the lessons to take from 2019 to 2020?
Particularly in the Tests, looking at how India play their cricket and developed their game over the last three or four years, it is something that we can aspire to do. The wickets they have prepared in domestic cricket, the group of fast bowlers that they have developed, the continuity in selection. We can take big learnings from playing against India in the Test series.
There are big lessons in how far behind we are in Tests. Our record hasn't been great for a long period of time. A big challenge will be to win a Test match away from Bangladesh, which is a big priority for us this year.
What did the Delhi T20I win tell you about the team, amid all the chaos at the time?
I have said to the players that I have a great deal of respect for them, the way they conduct themselves and their work ethic. I think they are a mentally very tough team. They face a whole host of challenges with life and cricket. Yet they were able to beat a team like India.
They are under a lot of pressure when they play. It is a cricket-loving public that demand them to win week in, week out, which is not possible. But they really carry themselves well, and often I tell my mates back home in South Africa that these players are under a lot more pressure than teams that I have been involved with in the past. The expectation is so much greater. They have to try to produce results against some tough circumstances.
The board president has said that it wants the team ready by 2022, for the 2023 World Cup. Do you think it is too early to talk about that?
Three years is a long time away. We need to ensure some short-term goals. We need to make sure we develop a style of play and confidence so that in 2022 and 2023, we can be contenders for the World Cup. The only way to get there is by winning games.
I have been blown away by Mushfiqur [Rahim]'s work ethic. He is a great role model for some of the younger players. But he also has some challenges in front of him. He has to become a bit more consistent. I know he is a very driven batsman. He'd love to finish his Test career with a batting average of 40, so we are setting him some goals and pushing his boundaries.
We want him to be Bangladesh's best-ever batsman, for younger players to emulate. Challenging him is a big part of my job at the moment. In that way, trying to encourage younger players to emulate what he does. His training regime is something that I have never seen before. His work ethic and desire is unbelievable.
Bangladesh haven't played an ODI since you took charge. It is their most successful format. They have a very successful captain. How do you see that team now?
Mashrafe [Mortaza] is a legend of Bangladesh cricket. I obviously need to still sit down with him and plot his future and discuss a few things with him. He has been an inspirational leader by all accounts. I have never worked with him before, but he has been an unbelievable captain for the team and he needs to be respected for what he has done for the country. Those discussions still need to take place.
At the moment, my priority is not one-day cricket. I have got a big focus on trying to get our Test match cricket to where it needs to go. I see that as a big challenge. We are very competitive in ODI cricket. With one or two things to tinker here and there, we can always be competitive.
Our T20 performance is not great and our Test performance is very poor. If we can get our Test cricket going, the rest will all come into play, and improve. If you improve in one format, I don't think your Test cricket will improve. But if you really improve in Tests, it teaches you so much more about the other formats as well.
What is your outlook to coaching? How long would you like to be with a team?
My coaching philosophy has never been to coach a team, to coach another team. I have never coached an U15 team to be an U19 coach. My focus has always been with that particular team. I think to be successful as a coach, you have to build relationships with players.
It doesn't build in six months, a year or two years. It takes a long period of time. I think if you can see development of a team over a period of time, that for me is very rewarding. I am not into quick fixes, short-term solutions.
I want to be around for a while, to develop those relationships, players, team culture and performance. I think that's what the coach should be there for. If you bring someone in for a season or two, you might win one or two series. But is he really going to make an impact, though?
To coach a team for a long period is like investing. When you put your money in the bank, you don't see the rewards in a year's time. You see it in 15 years time. If I can leave some sort of legacy in Bangladesh cricket in a couple of years' time, I will be satisfied.