Whenever a new
person takes over at the helm in any field,
the mood is generally one of guarded optimism, that results will
better under his tenure. This is exactly the feeling as Gary Kirsten
as India’s new coach. The former South African left-handed opening
been with the team in Australia in an advisory capacity but only now
formally taken up arguably the most demanding job in world cricket,
exalted status the game enjoys in this country. Expectations among
are sky high and sometimes unreasonable as Kirsten will no doubt
When he was given the job a few months ago, Kirsten made it clear that he wanted the Indian cricketers to play less as individuals and more together as a team. "There are fantastic players in the group and I am looking forward to working with them,’’ he is quoted to have said. By an interesting coincidence, the first task facing the 40-year-old Kirsten will be to help outwit Graeme Smith’s South African side when they land in this country later this month to play a three-Test series.
Expressing confidence that India would have a successful two-year
his stewardship Kirsten said that having played the game at the highest
he can impart some expertise to the team’s planning and performance
are many experienced players in the team and together we can hope for a
of successful years,’’ he said in an interview to a television
Kirsten, who has asked for Paddy Upton, a mental conditioning coach, to be included in his support staff, is of the view that mind coaches have become big in sports. His perception is that such people can add value to the team. Given his vast experience and impressive record, it is important that the BCCI heeds Kirsten’s requests and gives him a free hand in cricketing matters.
Kirsten feels that overseeing a smooth change of guard in the Test team represents the biggest challenge of his tenure and he hopes to make the process easier by involving senior players in the planning of their retirements. At the moment, India have five ageing players in the Test team with only Sachin Tendulkar from that group still playing one-day cricket. Anil Kumble is 37, Sourav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are both 35 while Tendulkar turns 35 next month. VVS Laxman is the youngest of the quintet at 33. Kirsten will be aiming for a smooth transition in about 18 months time when he hopes to have two new players in the Test side who have come through on a succession planning basis. This is something that will have to be managed very carefully, obviously with Kirsten being involved, as with a number of other people including the players themselves.
However, Kirsten has made it clear that youngsters will not be rushed into Test cricket despite a batch of exciting talent coming through the one-day arena. "At the Test level, one must always be careful, because it is a tough and uncompromising environment and you need your experience, maybe more so than one-day cricket," says Kirsten. Few can argue against this belief, particularly as it comes from a cricketer who played 101 Tests and 185 ODIs through the 90s and into the new millennium. Till Jacques Kallis took over at the top, Kirsten was South Africa’s leading run getter in Tests but his unbeaten 188 in the 1996 competition still stands as the highest score in the World Cup.
Spending some time with the team in Australia too
helped and Kirsten found the
Indians to be a very competitive unit and very determined. As he put it
recent interview, "what I like about Indian cricket as a whole, and
certainly with the younger players, is that they are ready to accept
battle. Unlike in the past, they are not backing off anymore. I think
very healthy for the game. It is a good looking team with very bright
for the future."
Certainly the right kind of encouraging statements that one should make, particularly at the start, and Kirsten has certainly made the right moves initially. He has other things going for him too. Even though these are early days, one cannot see Kirsten acquire the arrogance or the megalomaniac behaviour of Greg Chappell, the man he is succeeding. Chappell too was for change but he was abrasive in his bid to alter the make up of the team and this made players feel insecure. Kirsten has given indications that he will be more subtle in his handling. The players on their part will do well in giving Kirsten a patient hearing on the kind of tactical planning he has in store for them. In an amiable atmosphere, great things can be achieved.