In an article in CricInfo last Friday, Siddharth Monga wrote : “All the players credit the team of Dhoni and Gary Kirsten – especially the coach – for the mental turnaround. They say that the management has put the team in a happy place from where they can give their best.”
I’m glad to see Gary Kirsten finally getting some credit for the transformation of the Indian team over the last three years . They used to be a bunch of individualists who folded under pressure. No more. Today’s team is a real team , a confident , tough-minded group that has each other’s backs and fights to the last ball. Much credit should go to the players and to the inspiring captaincy of M.S Dhoni, as it should , but Gary Kirsten’s contributions are usually disregarded. A shame because I remember how his appointment as the Indian team’s coach was roundly criticized. Any number of Indian commentators ( I think Ajit Wadekar was one ) questioned why it was necessary to appoint a foreigner as Coach when there were so many worthy Indian candidates to pick from. They now have their answer.
At the time Gary Kirsten was appointed the Indian cricket team’s fortunes were at a low ebb. The team was way down in the standings ; it had been ignominiously bundled out of the World Cup and the previous coach, Greg Chapell, had left it in a shambles. The BCCI had comically bungled the search for a coach and John Emburey had just turned them down. Kirsten, known as a gritty, hardworking , analytical player may not have been a glamorous appointment but his low-key , level-headed persona was just what was needed.There is no doubt that Indian players have responded better to foreign coaches than to home-grown ones but success as a player has not often translated to success as a coach. The foreign coaches who have succeeded in the subcontinent have been the quiet , low profile types who have been content to work behind the scenes ( Tom Moody , John Wright, Dav Whatmore) and not the authoritarian type ( Greg Chappell).
Kirsten has quietly succeeded in instilling in the players something of his own grit and determination. No matter how good the individual players had been, they had previously lacked fighting spirit and cohesiveness, the belief that they could compete against the best in the world even when the chips were down . They had it under John Wright’s tutelage but reverted to their old selves under Greg Chappell. Kirsten has molded them once again into a team in tandem with the efforts of the physio and the motivational coach. While he is always supportive of his players , he has not hesitated to give them a dressing down when they merited it . For instance ,earlier this year he expressed his displeasure over the physical conditioning of some of the players, notably Yuvraj Singh and Rohit Sharma.
For their part , the players have responded well to Kirsten’s self effacing style . Tendulkar and Gambhir are only two of the players who have gone on record praising the coach. Dhoni too has been very appreciative of the partnership he has formed with Kirsten and the way their differing personalities mesh together so seamlessly.
Some credit must also be given to the selectors who seem to have gotten past their regional prejudices ( at least to some extent) and made some bold choices which have panned out more often than not. The infusion of younger players has resulted in a fitter , hungrier team and it has given hope to other aspirants who are still knocking on the doors . These selectors are the first such group to be functioning as paid professionals rather than honorary functionaries and they have proved to be well worth the money.
With next year’s World Cup , Gary Kirsten will have completed four years as the coach of the Indian team . Four years on the subcontinent , away from family, is a long time and the Indian team’s coach is always in a high pressure situation because of the impossible expectations of the Indian cricketing public. I don’t know how much longer Kirsten will continue in this post but I hope that when he does call it quits , the BCCI appoints someone just like him as his successor.