Former South African cricketer Gary Kirsten turns a year older today as he celebrates his 54th birthday. Among the most prolific players to have represented the Proteas after their spectacular return to international cricket, Gary Kirsten remains the only South African to have laid his hand upon an ICC World Cup trophy, albeit as a coach.
Many might not have seen Kirsten’s exploits with the bat but to this date, he is revered as a respected figure amongst the Indian fans for his contributions that led to the Indian side winning the elusive World Cup trophy in 2011 and ending the long 28-year drought.
The 2011 World Cup victory was perhaps an inflexion point in Indian cricket, and Kirsten was an integral part of that memorable campaign. Having donned the robes of the Indian coach in 2007, he had seen through a phase of transition with great prescience. Most notably, he guided the Indian team to the Number 1 position in the ICC Test rankings.
Cleaning up the mess of Greg Chappell
Unlike his predecessor Greg Chappell who tore apart the team with his whimsical ideas and highly inflated ego, Kirsten took a different road. Kirsten always believed that the players of the calibre like Sachin Tendulkar, Virendra Sehwag, or VVS Laxman never needed any drastic coaching input.
It all boiled down to man managing the team and making sure that each player took the field with confidence and that the player knew he had the backing of the coach and the support staff.
When Tendulkar was going through a lean patch and even pondered quitting the game, Kirsten remarked, “He wasn’t enjoying himself, it’s as simple as that.”
Asked how he motivated that best batsman the game of cricket has ever seen, Kirsten’s reply was simple, “My prime responsibility was to get him to enjoy himself. That was the first part of it. The second part of it was that in a coach or a leader, he wanted a friend. He wanted someone that he could converse with and talk about his game to. I just happened to be the right person at the right time for that.”
Kirsten’s coaching philosophy
When asked about his coaching philosophy and how he took the Indian side to dizzying heights, Kirsten, rather humbly, in an interview to Espncricinfo remarked:
“I don’t do it to win trophies. I do it to add value to people’s lives, so I can help a group of people move forward in terms of where they are. One has to be realistic about one’s goals. For the Bangladesh team to strive to be the best cricket team in the world is probably unrealistic. They don’t have the players to do that.”
He further added, “If you do have the players, then why was India only ranked four or five in the world with such talent? And then to take them forward is a collaborative effort, where everyone buys into the way of doing things. For me, the essence of leadership is to move people forward from where they are.
It’s not only the Indian side that reached the crescendo of achievements under his tenure. After stepping down as the Indian Men’s team coach, Kirsten went on to become the head coach of his national side. It was under his tenure that the Protea side climbed the top of the Test rankings and claimed the Mace at the end of the year.
More than a player or a coach, Gary is lauded by his peers for being a true gentleman who knew how to play hard and yet at the same time, knew where to draw the line. Here’s to a man who fulfilled a life-long dream of an Indian cricket fan and gave us the biggest gift we could have ever asked for. Happy Birthday, coach!