Gary Kirsten: We never panicked, regardless of how we played

Looking back at the Indian team, which won the World Cup in 2011, then head coach Gary Kirsten said Mahendra Singh Dhoni's 'inspirational' captaincy made the team special.

It’s been nine years since Gary Kirsten parted ways with the Indian team, but even today, the cricketing fraternity remembers him as the guiding force behind India’s World Cup victory in 2011.

Ask any player from that team and they would agree that the pair of Kirsten and then captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni did the trick for India in the tournament. 

Playing at home wasn’t easy, but head coach Kirsten ensured that ‘external’ pressure did not affect the team’s morale. “We moved away from focusing on individual success and focused more around what we wanted to achieve as a team,” the 52-year-old said, recalling those days.

Moving on from India, soon after winning the World Cup, Kirsten took charge of the South African side and helped the team attain No.1 spot in the ICC Test rankings.

A glittering ending to the Lanka, Sanga, Mahela Tale

Over the years, Kirsten has been associated with various franchises across T20 cricket leagues – which includes Delhi Daredevils and Royal Challengers Bangalore in the Indian Premier League. However, those stints haven’t been as glorious as the one with Team India. “Cricket coaching has developed significantly over the past few years, largely thanks to the T20 leagues like the IPL,” he said.

In an interview with Sportstar, Kirsten opened up on his stint with the Indian team, the secret behind the success and also explained how he handled the star-studded team, which had the likes of Sachin Tendulkar, Virender Sehwag, Gautam Gambhir and Dhoni in its ranks. 

“We never panicked, regardless of how well or badly we played,” Kirsten said, making it clear that it was the teamwork that helped the side achieve its target.

Excerpts…

Recently you started an online coaching module. What was the whole idea behind the approach, and how has been the response so far?

We are looking forward to providing an online coach education solution for any aspiring coach wanting to accelerate his coaching expertise and skills. CoachED (www.coached.com) is a library of coaching information as well as an accreditation platform for any coach, regardless of level or expertise. CoachED will be available online by the end of this week.

You have been an extremely successful coach for more than a decade now. How challenging has coaching become as a profession over the years? 

Well, cricket coaching has developed significantly over the past few years, largely thanks to the T20 leagues like the Indian Premier League (IPL). 

The margins between success and failure are small and the coach needs to have a full bank of skills available to him, for example, recruitment, man management, planning, game strategy, using data effectively, building relationships with owners, creating a team culture and way of doing things. And all this needs to be done within a short time frame of approximately eight weeks. 

The coach is fulfilling more of a management role and will have a number of support staff to help him prepare and take care of the players.

What is the difference between coaching a national team and a franchise? Which is more challenging?

I think the primary difference is the length of time you get to work with national team players and franchise players. It's much easier to work on building culture, managing and influencing players the longer you have to work with them.

How crucial or challenging is it in a national team to groom players from various backgrounds as compared to a franchise team, where most players are seasoned and quite experienced? 

Each format has a different set of challenges and opportunities. In a franchise team, it is very difficult to establish a "new way of doing things" in one season. 

As a coach, your most precious commodity is, more time, to be able to influence the franchise and move to a new culture or way of doing things. In a national team, your most precious commodity is continuity and stability. The more stable and secure the environment for the players, the easier it is to affect meaningful change.

Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli carry coach Gary Kirsten on their shoulders after India won the 2011 World Cup.   -  AFP

 

You led India to a World Cup title in 2011 - 28 years after Kapil Dev’s team won the title in 1983. Under the leadership of Dhoni, it was a fairytale for the team. What do you think made the side special? 

A hugely talented group of cricketers with an inspirational captain (MS Dhoni), looking for a stable, secure and safe environment. 

In 2011, India played at home. With so many expectations, how challenging was it for the side to keep calm and focus on the job at hand? 

There was plenty of external pressure but the internal dynamics of the team environment were calm and secure. We never panicked, regardless of how well or badly we played. The players believed in each other and we always knew someone would deliver for the team.

How different was coaching the Indian team from that of South Africa? The two have different cricketing cultures…

South Africa believed "their way" to achieve success, especially in 50-over cricket, was fundamentally different from the Indian way. I did not disagree with the argument, but always felt it was worth exploring new ideas and new ways of playing the game, as a collective.

(The late) Bob Woolmer did this for us when I was playing for the Proteas in 1994 and a new, more flamboyant approach to 50-over cricket made a big difference to our results. I really enjoyed our willingness to take on risk and move away from too much match structure when I was with the Indian team. This can only be possible, however, with a safe and secure environment.

The Indian team was full of superstars when you took charge. As a coach, how challenging was it to handle them? 

We moved away from focusing on individual success and more around what we wanted to achieve as a team. This was a fundamental shift and forced us to look at how we behaved and operated as a group of people, every day. In short, we focused on anything that could make the team environment a great place to be, with lots of fun and enjoyment to go with it.

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