Saturday, January 29, 2011

A TRIBUTE TO GARY KIRSTEN

This is coming a little late... but as they say, better late than never! When England won the Ashes and people started voicing that over the next year, India, South Africa and England will be a part of the 3-horse race to decide the best team in Tests, I did a post here looking ahead at the fixtures of these three teams over the next year.

Immediately after I had posted this blog, I realised that I had not considered a very important factor... the chance that Gary Kirsten may no longer be the coach of the Indian team over Test season of 2011. However, I put that thought at the back of my mind and put a mental note that I will reflect on it later. Then came the announcement that Kirsten will definitely not be renewing his contract with BCCI after the World Cup.

So now, that thought has come back to the front of my mind... and here I am, writing about the man who silently worked on Team India to make it reach unforeseen heights.

After the match-fixing controversy that rocked Indian cricket at the turn of the millennium, it took a partnership of Sourav Ganguly and John Wright (the first ever foreign coach of Team India) to see India through. They worked wonderfully well as a team... and were quite a contrast in their styles. Whereas the skipper Sourav Ganguly was loud and in-your-face fellow, the coach in John Wright was a quiet and behind-the-doors worker. Under their charge, India reached great heights with a number of Test wins abroad and the road to the World Cup finals in 2003.

But as it is bound to happen with every foreigner who has a job as tough as the one of coaching the Indian national cricket team, he did not renew his contract and went back to New Zealand... with his reputation enhanced. Then came the Greg Chappell era in Indian cricket.

His partnership started with Sourav Ganguly. Ganguly had reportedly sought Chappell's help to combat the rising deliveries during the 2003-04 tour of Australia... and he had had immediate effect with a fighting century in the opening Test at Gabba that set the tone for the rest of the series. So Chappell's appointment as coach with Ganguly as the captain was a news that was welcomed by most in Indian cricket.

But soon, Ganguly's form dipped, he was out of the team soon (reportedly on Chappell's suggestions to the Board) and Rahul Dravid was the captain of Team India. The Dravid - Chappell partnership was quite a contrast to the earlier Ganguly - Wright one. Here, it was a quiet and diplomatically correct captain who had paired up with a loud coach who as it later turned out, liked to use the media to get some of his work done.

Though India did see a lot of success during this time also (a world record run of ODI wins while chasing and a Test series win in West Indies), there was a feeling of uneasiness and discomfort within the team... and it was reflected in its interactions with the media. There was a feeling of insecurity in the team.

Then came the debacle called World Cup 2007 (the ODI version). India got knocked out in the opening round with a loss to Bangladesh. There were cries for senior players to retire. There were cries for the coach to be sacked. The coach himself made a few different claims that he had not gotten the team he wanted. Sachin Tendulkar spoke out against the coach for questioning the commitment of players. A few hours later, Greg Chappell tendered his resignation to the Board.

From this day (i.e. April 4, 2007), India did not have a regular coach for almost a whole year. Former cricketers like Ravi Shastri, Chandu Borde and Lalchand Rajput were given the responsibilities in this span. And India once again saw tremendous success. There was a Test series win in England, the inaugural Twenty20 World Championships and the ODI tri-series in Australia.

And then, Gary Kirsten was officially appointed as the coach of the Indian cricket team with effect from March 1, 2008... and his very first assignment was a home series against his home country South Africa. However, before that series, Kirsten had joined the Indian team on their 2007-08 tour of Australia and spent some time getting to know the individual members of the team.

Not many people know this (and amongst those who know, many may not remember this) that Gary Kirsten joined the Indian team in his capacity as a 'Future Coach' immediately after the controversial Sydney Test, which created a diplomatic furore. The tour was almost called off and one of the most silent and dignified man of Indian cricket, the captain Anil Kumble, went on to remark that only one team had played that Test in the 'true spirit of the game'.

It was in the midst of this huge storm of controversy and unrest that Gary Kirsten made his first entrance in the dressing room of the Indian cricket team, though not in any official capacity as of then. Though he may not have had any role to play in what followed immediately, but it is interesting to recall that India went on to win the next Test at Perth and then the tri-series as well. Gary Kirsten's relationship with Indian cricket had begun on a positive note and with a good omen.

In his first official Test as the coach of the team, Sehwag scored a triple hundred (319) at Chennai... and later went on to play many more unbelievable knocks under Kirsten's tutelage. After a little rough patch in Sri Lanka due to Ajantha Mendis' mysteries, Team India went ahead to play some of the most stunning cricket ever witnessed in our history. The 320-run Mohali win against Australia in 2008, the Chennai chase against England after 26/11, a series win in New Zealand, the ascendancy to No. 1 in Tests after a 2-0 drubbing of Sri Lanka with a spectacular win at Brabourne Stadium in Mumbai, the retention of that ranking against South Africa at Eden Gardens, a series-leveling win with a second-string pace bowling attack against Sri Lanka at Colombo, a 2-0 'whitewash' of Australia with a nail-biter at Mohali and clinical efficiency at Bangalore, and then a brilliant and extremely impressive 1-1 result in South Africa.

Gary Kirsten saw the retirements of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, the good, bad and ugly times of Yuvraj Singh as a Test cricketer, the ups and downs of Raina, the brilliance called Virender Sehwag, the sturdiness of Sachin Tendulkar, the artistry of VVS Laxman, the struggles and successes of Rahul Dravid, the new-found confidence of Gautam Gambhir, the dependence on Zaheer Khan, the capriciousness of Harbhajan Singh, the sometimes-great-sometimes-not-that-great captaincy of MS Dhoni, and the flimsiness of the rest of our bowling unit.

Together with MS Dhoni, Kirsten formed a partnership that allowed Indian team to scaled newer and greater heights, instilled a spirit of team work, inspired confidence in each other... and today, after finishing his last Test assignment on the tour of South Africa, he deserves to sit and lean back on a comfortable rocking chair and smile a smile of contentment. That's the least he deserves!

Some guys like Zaheer, Harbhajan and Sehwag have gone on record praising the methods of Kirsten and the contrast they were to the tactics of Greg Chappell. Others like Dhoni, Gambhir, Tendulkar, Dravid and Raina are content in just praising Kirsten without comparing him with anyone... an acknowledgement of the fact that he is beyond any comparison as far as the coaches of the Indian cricket teams are concerned.

India has a tough year in Test cricket in 2011. There is a tour to West Indies immediately after the World Cup. Then 10 days after the end of the last test on that tour, the first Test against England in England is scheduled to begin. Then India will be hosting England before embarking on a tour of Australia in December. All this while, India will have to be without Gary Kirsten.

I just hope that the work done by Kirsten continues showing its fruits for a long time to come!

4 comments:

tracerbullet007 said...

Loved the article! Kirsten will be definitely missed..

Govind Raj said...

"Gary Kirsten saw the retirements of Anil Kumble and Sourav Ganguly, the good, bad and ugly times of Yuvraj Singh as a Test cricketer, the ups and downs of Raina, the brilliance called Virender Sehwag, the sturdiness of Sachin Tendulkar, the artistry of VVS Laxman, the new-found confidence of Gautam Gambhir, the dependence on Zaheer Khan, the capriciousness of Harbhajan Singh, the sometimes-great-sometimes-not-that-great captaincy of MS Dhoni, and the flimsiness of the rest of our bowling unit"

If India have remained "disputed No. 1" in spite of best of Gary's efforts and all the facts you have mentioned, the sole and soul reason is the gradual, continued and irreversible disintegration of 'The Wall'

Shridhar, you perhaps missed the most important factor !

But for that, very good piece in deed !

Anonymous said...

Dear Jaju,

Nice article but i hope u r concentrating at the same level of integrity in ur study as well.

Ankit

Shridhar Jaju said...

Oh yes, Govind... I'll update the post and include Dravid. I knew I was missing something. I had missed Laxman as well when I first published the post. I had to edit it later to include him. Rahul Dravid, if you ever get down to reading this, I am sorry!

Ankit, yes... don't worry about that. I think (and hope) I am juggling my time well!

SAVE OUR TIGER!