The airport in New Delhi slipped into utter chaos as soon as the Indian cricket team arrived to board a chartered flight to Ahmedabad on Thursday afternoon. People fished out pens, notebooks, paper, mobile phones and cameras and pushed through the security cordon to reach players for autographs and pictures.
Even as players stood around, crowded in by overzealous fans, most obliging them with a quick smile or a scribble on whatever they had in their hands, Gary Kirsten, India coach, smiled to himself and walked to one corner, almost unnoticed, with Aravind Adiga’s Booker Prize winning novel, The White Tiger, tucked under an armpit.
Despite the odd statement from a grateful cricketer, or the odd comment in the media, for the public at large, the contribution of this low profile man-behind-the-successful-team is as yet not understood. But for India’s superstar players, the he is the man of the moment.
On Wednesday, Sachin Tendulkar told the world what he thought of Kirsten when he singled him out for special mention — everyone else was thanked in general.
“I have been playing well after the 2007 World Cup and much of the credit goes to Gary. He has held the team beautifully, and it’s all about holding the team together. Even at the nets, he works as hard as the players, probably harder than anyone else. If you look, he has been bowling at me a lot at the practice and I would like to thank him for everything,” said Tendulkar.
Helping players out in the nets and ironing out flaws is, however, just one small aspect of his job. His biggest achievement perhaps lies in allowing the players to be themselves and keeping the dressing room environment light and friction free. Sehwag had once said: “He is the best coach I have ever seen. The best part is that he doesn’t force things on you. But whenever you need him for practice, throwing balls, sharing ideas and worries, he’s always there.”
Besides, what has earned him the respect of the team is his willingness to adapt and adjust. India skipper MS Dhoni feels Kirsten came in with an open mind and instead of forcing his ideas, made the effort to learn what the team needed from him. “He came in and learnt what Indian cricket is all about, what the culture is and how individuals work in the side. Accordingly, he made his strategies, which is working for all of us. We are really comfortable in dressing room,” said Dhoni.
Seeing an Indian dressing room which, a few years ago, was torn apart by Greg Chappell’s terrible man-management, transform into this happy bunch that enjoys each others’ company, is something quite remarkable. As is Kirsten.