As national coach, Gary Kirsten provided the golden touch twice over. In his first coaching assignment, he guided India to No 1 in Test rankings. He stepped down after guiding the team to the 2011 World Cup triumph as well, only to coach his native South Africa side too to the pinnacle in Tests.
The former Proteas opener quit as coach again to spend more time with his family. But the coaching bug has bit Kirsten again, but this time the challenge will be different.
On Tuesday, he was unveiled as the chief coach of the Delhi Daredevils, to revive a team that finished second from last in the 2013 Indian Premier League.
Kirsten’s arrival will no doubt cause a buzz in the build-up to the next edition, but the man who has a deep understanding of two national set-ups is anguished by the sad state of cricketing ties.
With the BCCI announcing a home series against West Indies starting November and an away tour against New Zealand from January, the tour of South Africa looks certain to be cut to the bone, if not entirely called off.
Kirsten didn’t mince words. “To reduce a series between India and South Africa to two Tests --two great cricketing nations playing really good cricket at Test level at the moment, three Tests would be a minimum for me in many ways," he told Hindustan Times.
“This series is a mouth-watering one for fans. To shortcut it, to make it less valuable than what it should be, I don’t think it is good for the game."
Is he sad the series originally comprising three Tests, seven ODIs and two T20s has fallen prey to Board politics? “I don’t know, but I’m a cricket-loving person."
UP TO SACHIN
One of the achievements of Kirsten’s India tenure was helping Sachin Tendulkar rediscover his magic. And he wants the retirement decision to be left to the batsman.
“Apart from the advice he is getting from people closest to him, his mentors, the bottom line is if he is performing, he can keep playing. If not, it is up to him. He has earned the right to make that decision."
It is very simple for Kirsten. Even at 40, Tendulkar doesn’t need any extra motivation."
And he almost shows a told-you-so delight while discussing how mentor and successor as India coach, Duncan Fletcher, is turning things around for a young team after his credentials were questioned in the wake of disastrous tours of England and Australia.
“I worked when great players were about to retire, he is working with youngsters. That is one of his strengths," he said, while pointing to the sheer talent of Cheteshwar Pujara, Virat Kohli and Shikhar Dhawan. “You can’t question his ability, it takes a bit longer in the Indian context, it is a different culture so you have to understand people. He is resilient that way."
END FOR VIRU?
Does that mean curtains for Virender Sehwag then? “I worked with him when he was playing at his best. The fact is he is working hard. Can he get back to his best? It is possible."
One comes to a sensitive topic -the DRS. As India coach, he watched vehement opposition to the system. It was the other way around with South Africa. “There are frustrations as to why it is not where people want it to be, but as a technology I believe it is needed," he signs off.
(The writer’s trip was sponsored by the Delhi Daredevils)