Kirsten is the right choice

Far from relying on his reputation as a player, Kirsten has concentrated on learning the ropes as a coach. Since hanging up his helmet, he has been working at a high performance centre in his homeland, writes Peter Roebuck.

In some respects it was his appointed task. Officials took the view that an unyielding figure was needed, a man able to stand his ground amidst the blazing guns and clashing egos. Clint Eastwood was chosen. It was a deliberately confronting move. Chappell has an exacting but inflexible mind.

It was not that his ideas were wrong, just that sometimes things must run their course.

Inevitably it ended in tears. The deposed coach could argue that his recommendations were ignored, critics could imply that he exceeded his brief. India took time to recover. Not that results were poor in the interim.

To the contrary victory in England was followed by success in T20. In both cases the management was praised. But it was not likely to last. Left alone, modern captains have more on their plate than a child in a sweet shop. Exhausted, Rahul Dravid withdrew to his tent. Accordingly the quest for a coach was renewed.

Gary Kirsten will serve with distinction. A fine and discreet man, he is prepared to remain in the background. As a batsman he was a scrapper who did not give an inch and asked for none. Since he had not been blessed with exceptional talent, he had to think about his game and work hard at it.

He took nothing for granted, not his place, not his next run. In short he was a survivor. Not such a bad quality in an opening batsman. Or a coach.

Often players of this sort make the best coaches precisely because they had to build their techniques brick by brick. Hardly any of the great sportsmen succeed as coaches or as captains. Ask them how to play spin and they will shrug and suggest hitting it out of the park. In most cases they have examined their own talent but not anyone else’s. Also they tend to lose patience with less gifted players. Once they have provided an answer they expect their charges to carry it out in five minutes. They find the game simple and therefore assume it is easy.

Far from relying on his reputation as a player, Kirsten has concentrated on learning the ropes as a coach. Since hanging up his helmet, he has been working at a high performance centre in his homeland. He has emerged as a professional who prefers his ears to his mouth.

Kirsten inherits an ageing team blessed with an abundance of ability eager to mount one last charge and prepared to work hard under a respected leader. India has plenty of strength in reserve, especially now that Virender Sehwag and Irfan Pathan are back in business. Happily, too, none of the senior players any longer seeks the captaincy and the next leader has been put in charge of the one-day team. Greg Chappell’s fall from favour will help, granting the newcomer popularity by comparison. It is a start, and as a former opener Kirsten will understand its worth.

Kirsten’s first task will be to coax from his team a strong performance in Australia. After that he will preside over a gradual changing of the guard. It will not be easy but he has the intelligence, sensitivity and strength to carry it out.

The BCCI deserves praise for seeking the best man, an approach that confirms the country’s growing self-confidence.