Gary Kirsten arrived for the media interaction to the Cricket Centre in the BCCI blazer and tie, said good things about India calling it an "amazing land’’, Indian cricket and Indian cricketers and declared that Mahendra Singh Dhoni is the world’s best captain. Delighted at having been a part of India’s successful World Cup campaign he said it would remain his top achievement in his career.
"I’m honoured by the way I was treated, though I was a foreigner. So were Paddy Upton and Eric Simons. It was incredible to see how the Indians love their cricket and players and that certainly helped being amongst them. I was with them shoulder to shoulder. It’s a beautiful country and I have been to many parts of India. I went to Gulmarg for skiing. I would be coming to India many times. India has major tours to West Indies, England and Australia and the endeavour should be to maintain the No 1 ranking in Test cricket. There are many milestones awaiting Indian cricket. There are IPL options open for me next year. I don’t know what I would be doing next April,’’ he said.
You were a Test and one-day cricketer for South Africa and played the World Cup. You have finished as the coach of the Indian team. Where would you place the Indian team’s World Cup win as a cricketer and coach ?
Right at the top of the cart. As a player I would have loved to win the World Cup which never happened. I guess the second best is to do this as a coach. It’s been an amazing achievement. It’s been wonderful to have been part of this win with a special group of cricketers.
Three years is too short time to have created a vacuum, but it appears that the players are going to feel it. So what’s made you so special to this Indian team ? Is it because of skills, man-management or strategy. They say cricketers need not necessarily be good coaches, but you have proved it otherwise to this Indian team ?
I have looked at coaching in a holistic manner which means that I don’t look at components of what a coach should do. The technical aspect at international level is probably ten percent of the work. Man-management is the most important thing. At the end of the day what matters is the options that can be provided to a cricketer to cross the ropes in the best way he can. You need to tell the player that how he should play is not necessarily the right thing to do, because at the end of the day he needs to take on the responsibility when he crosses the ropes. For me it’s really understanding the individuals, getting the best out of them, working with them with their own techniques, not to change them and helping them to enhance their skills that’s most appropriate for that player.
The one thing that stands out for me with this team is the way we created an environment for the team to be happy and feel and work as a team. We set out this three years ago with the help of Paddy Upton. This team felt they were not representing as individuals, but as team India. Sachin has been a leader in this environment. He’s a player who is so revered in this country. He stood up and said that ``the greatest achievements that we have had and are going to have, is going to be because we love playing for team India, not for ourselves.’’
Tell us something about the hundreds and thousands of throw-downs to the batsmen. ?
In any sport where you are dependent on repetitive skills, you need to keep training that skill. You can take a sport like golf and tennis; the golfers and tennis players go through skills for five hours a day. There’s no reason why one cannot do it in cricket. I take pride in my work in the nets. I love working one-on-one with the players. Effectively I am the batting coach. I don’t enjoy sitting in the back of the nets and telling people what to do. I believe in putting the physical work as well.
You took over as coach not long after you retired. Did that help you in your assignment with the Indian team and understand the modern players’ requirements?
It was an interesting job straightaway. I use reference points of a player to understand how I am going to work with a group of individuals. I had played some cricket with some of them and gained their respect. What was important for me and Paddy Upton to start afresh was bonding the relationship with each individual, creating trust in the environment and get the best out of them. They knew that we were not here for any personal glory; it’s to become one of the best teams in the world.
Your immediate goals as a coach ?
I am going home to spend time with my family. At some stage I have to consider my future. I am very fortunate to receive a few IPL offers. I have turned them all down with a specific reason of wanting to have a good time after the Indian job and spend time with the family I have missed tremendously over the last three years.
Q. What’s there to be done further to improve this Indian side?
They are the No.1 Test playing nation and they have won the World Cup. Each and every player wants to get better. The one thing that I thought really happened well in the knock-out matches of the World Cup was the way India fielded. That’s one area of the game ---- the ground fielding --- India has gone up. I was surprised and amazed the way they fielded in the quarters, semis and final.
Q. What was happening to you when the Indian and South African national anthems was played at Nagpur?
It’s a matter of mixed emotions. South Africa is my country and I was very sad that they did not do well in the World Cup. I was very pleased for us that they were knocked out of the tournament. They were a good team. South Africa is my home, but my heart was 100 per cent with the Indian team. It was my job and I certainly wanted the Indian team to be winning games including against South Africa. It was a very emotional moment when we played the third Test at Cape Town which is my home town. I had played cricket there for 18 years. I was really hoping that we could win that Test match. We were bowling and batting well and I have that memory as well.
What could be the challenges for the new coach ?
It’s going to be tough for the new coach in terms of the standards that has been set by the team. There’s no reason why this team should not continue with success. The foundation has been set and there are some good young players coming through. Probably an important thing for a new coach is to bring freshness of ideas and do it in a way that the Indian players are going to respond. If he thinks that’s the right thing to do, he can spend some time with me and share some ideas on the way we set things up in the last three years. I certainly would not want the new guy to try and emulate what we did in three years. He could be a different person with different ideas. I am sure the right person will be selected that will allow the team to continue the run of success. Consistency for this team is going to be very important in order to remain at the top of world cricket. I think the platform has been well set.
How does one bring back Ishant Sharma and is Virat Kohli ready for Test cricket ?
Virat is ready for Test cricket. He is a bright young star. He’s taken the responsibility of playing these big games really well. He holds a very important position in the team. Ishant has tremendous potential. He has had a tough year. He’s going to learn a lot about his cricket over the next few years. I think he can be a star of the future. It’s very healthy to have competitiveness for places. They should just not be in the Indian team with average performances; they have to really perform well to be in the team.
Suresh Raina is a senior player and exceptional too. I have been excited by young Cheteshwar Pujara who has played little bit of Test cricket. I think he, from a Test match point of view, could be a star of the future. There’s a young left arm spinner (Ojha); he’s still a long to way to go. He’s has to learn about what he’s doing to get better. It’s important to find two quality seamers who can stay in the team for a decent period of time. I am really happy to note the way Munaf Patel has performed in the last 20 odd internationals. He really performed well in the World Cup. Ashish Nehra has done a good job for the team. He’s been in the mainstay of the bowling in one-day internationals. Zaheer Khan is the premier bowler and he needs support.
Zaheer does not like me calling him medium to medium fast bowler. He’s the best 135k bowler in the world at the moment. He has tremendous skill and has proved time and again that he can deliver the goods. He bowls really well under pressure. He’s very good at thinking and has ideas. He’s an unbelievable bowler to left handers.
What’s responsible for the improvement of Yuvraj Singh ?
I don’t think there’s been any player who has excited me more in terms of what he’s been able to do. He had a tough run six months ago. He was left out of the Test side. He made some personal decisions and went many times one-on-one with Paddy Upton. I felt six months ago that he was moving into a new space as a person and I had no doubt that it would have benefited him as a cricketer. I could not believe how focused he was when he came back for the World Cup. He was well prepared, fitter and had worked a lot on his bowling. Most impressive of the lot was that he wanted to be one of the top fielders in the World Cup. He along with Raina and Kohli inside the ring messed it up for many teams. For Yuvraj to end up as man of the tournament was a brilliant effort.
What makes Mahendra Singh Dhoni a great captain?
I believe that he’s the best captain in world cricket today. He’s a leader by example. He brings a terrific match-effort to every single he game plays. He’s a 100 percent player as are the others in this Indian team. He expects his troops to be ready for battle. He’s calm and level headed. I have not seen him lose his temper. If things don’t go well, he takes the responsibility. When he came to the final he had a point to prove that he’s capable of winning the big games by taking the responsibility. He’s one of the great leaders of this country and he has a huge amount to offer from the leadership point of view. There’s no reason for him to move on and be the captain for the next few years.
Which was the toughest match of the World Cup?
It’s an interesting World Cup. We had tough matches all the way through. We never really had an extremely easy game. Bangladesh, though they were 50 for none in five overs, was probably an easy game. We had tough situations against Ireland and Netherlands. That really worked up well for us. We were really getting battle hard in the league games. It’s not something you plan; we were playing 60 per cent of our potential in the league games. One thing that stood out in the knock out stage was that there’s no big individual contribution. Everyone chipped in, took the responsibility and took the pressure that existed and that really spoke about the character of the team. I was really excited the way this aspect unfolded. We stepped up the game when we played against Australia; from 60 per cent to 80 per cent.