After Greg Chappell’s controversial in-your-face tenure as India coach, it was imperative for the Board of Control for Cricket in India to get the right man for the job. Another hasty decision would have seen the team start to flounder but it might be fair to say that with Gary Kirsten they struck gold.
Chappell and Kirsten were as different as chalk and cheese. While Chappell was the headmaster... the strict disciplinarian, Kirsten was the friend... one who listened to the players.
For Kirsten, coaching a team was about harmony. He would never force anyone to practice. Net sessions during tours were not compulsory and more often than not, he would wait for the players to come up to him if they had a problem. The door was always open but the player had to take the first step.
“I don’t believe there is a “one-size-fits-all” approach to coaching,” Kirsten once told Harvard Business Review. “Every coach, manager, or leader has their own unique strengths and weaknesses, which might not suit everyone. We do, however, need to show integrity in our work. Players will not be easily led if their leader is not credible to them. They need to be able to see that their leaders’ intentions are legitimate and that they are not seeking personal glory because of the success of the team.”
Kirsten added: “The one thing I have learnt in coaching is that you will work with very different people in a team. We are all unique and every team will have a variety of issues to be dealt with. As a coach, I believe one has to be like a chameleon, where you can be different things to different people. Coaching Virat Kohli, I believe, is very different to coaching Gautam Gambhir for example.”
Kirsten’s relationship with Kohli was built on the youngster acknowledging that he had a long way to go and then being prepared to work on it. It takes a certain amount of courage to acknowledge shortcomings and Kohli was ready to do that.
Speaking on The RK Show on YouTube, Kirtsen said, “When I met Virat first up, he had great abilities and talent and he was a young guy. But I kind of knew straight away that he wasn’t operating in the best version of himself. So we had a number of discussions.
“I’ll never forget one, when we were playing an ODI series against Sri Lanka, and he was batting beautifully and he was on 30-odd not out. He then decided that he would try and hit the (bowler) over long on’s head for six. And he got holed out.
“I just said to him, ‘If you’re going to take your cricket to the next level, you need to hit that ball down the ground for one. You know you can hit a lot of balls up the ground, but there’s a lot of risk attached to that’. I think he took that on board, he got a hundred in the next one-day in Kolkata.
“Our relationship was formulated around him as a young player coming in, and me trying to say to him that he has a long way to go and to build in some consistent behaviours into the way he played this game.
Dhoni’s incredible presence
Kirsten went on to become one of the most successful India coaches of all time, guiding the side to the top of the Test rankings in 2009, and then to the World Cup title two years later. The coach heaped praise on skipper Mahendra Singh Dhoni and said they complemented each other as leaders.
“He’s one of the most impressive people that I have met. I think he is a great leader of people, he’s got an incredible presence. I think he’s loyal, and that’s the most important thing,” said Kirsten.
He added: “I’ll never forget, just before the World Cup we were invited in Bangalore to go to the flight school there. We got word back on the morning before the whole team was meant to go – and everyone was looking forward to the event – that the three South Africans, which was myself, Paddy Upton and Eric Simons, weren’t going to be allowed into the flight school because it was seen as a potential security risk. So MS cancelled the whole event. He said these are my people, if they are not allowed in, none of us are going.”
You can watch the entire Gary Kirsten interview here: