Kirsten: 'Kohli’s maturity in game a great learning for youngsters'

“He (Kohli) has worked out what he needs to do to create consistency in his game. He always had the strokeplay and the ability on the ball,” Gary Kirsten told Sportstar.   

Virat Kohli with Gary Kirsten during a practice session.   -  K. Murali Kumar

South Africa’s Gary Kirsten remains the only full-time head coach to have led India to World Cup glory. And although he chose not to renew his contract after the success of 2011, Kirsten remains privy to many a watershed moment in Indian cricket - M.S. Dhoni’s ascent to captaincy, India's rise to No. 1 ranking in Test cricket (Dec 2009) and the emergence of the Kohli run machine to name a few.

And with Royal Challengers Bangalore appointing the 50-year-old as its batting coach, Kirsten's partnership with skipper Kohli has assumed a new mantle. Kirsten left India on a high and since his departure, Kohli - the batsman - has ‘developed to another level.’ Kohli averages 56.33 with 5352 Test runs and 64.69 with 6728 runs between 2012 and 2018.

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“He (Kohli) has worked out what he needs to do to create consistency in his game. He always had the strokeplay and the ability on the ball,” Kirsten told Sportstar.   

“I think he (Kohli) has developed his game to a level where he understands the pressure involved. It’s the maturity in his game which is a great learning for any youngster," he added.

Under his tutelage, Dhoni forged a formidable unit capable of facing the best of oppositions in their own backyard. However, with Kohli taking over India's captaincy in all three formats, Kirsten noted that “the difference (between Virat and Dhoni's captaincy) is that Virat (Kohli) reflects a desire to lead for his team and wants to be the emotion around the team, whereas M.S. (Dhoni) is a lot calmer and took a cool captain approach to dealing with pressure situations.”

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“They're both great leaders by example. They are prepared to go into a difficult situation and be the ones to make the performances,” he added.

Asked who he pays more attention to during training - stars like Kohli and Brendon McCullum or the youngsters in the side - Kirsten said, “My role is to help every player prepare the best they can. A lot of these guys have their own ideas in the way they want to prepare.

“It's my responsibility - and the other coaches’ too - to be the sounding board to those thoughts and come up with ideas they might not have thought of. Every guy is different in his preparation.”

To each his own

A.B. De Villiers, one of the prolific run-makers in the shortest format, comes with the ability to play shots all across the field; a quality that could rub off on the younger players in the side as well. But Kirsten added a caveat. “To emulate a player is always a dangerous thing to do because each guy brings his own skills to the team.”

De Villiers came to the IPL after playing the Test series against South Arica, whereas McCullum flew in from Pakistan after featuring in the Pakistan Super League. Amid such a packed schedule, how does he ensure the players don't over-train or under-train before a game?

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“They are professional athletes, so they know what they need to do to get ready for a performance. It is for us to monitor everything while they are with you.

“In a game, we have to help the process go forward so that the team gets the kind of success that it is looking for.  Each player; you look at individually, you look at how he likes to train and when do you see the best of him when it comes to training and help him prepare accordingly," he observed.

Working with some of the most robust athletes in the game, Kirsten takes his own fitness very seriously. “Probably better than when I was playing, to be honest with you,” he said.

“I train now because I enjoy endurance sports. Running marathons and riding bikes on the mountains is my hobby. I need to remain fit to be able to do these things. Most days, I’m trying to do some of the other exercises.”