Circa 2007-08. India are getting mauled in Australia. The Anil Kumble-led team has lost the first two Tests. Then there is the added distraction of the Monkeygate row.
It was in these circumstances that Gary Kirsten joined the team at Perth, a few days ahead of the third Test.
Officially, the South African had yet to take over as coach and had flown in to get a hang of things. But the change in the team’s performance was dramatic.
For the first time ever, India breached Australia’s bastion — Perth — registering a stunning victory. The fourth Test at Adelaide was also proudly drawn.
It was a perfect start and in his time with the team till 2011, India rose to dizzy heights. So much so that to those who feel the coach has a limited role to play in cricket, people to cite the Kirsten example, his influence on India and later on South Africa.
Under him, both became the world’s No 1 ranked Test teams. India also won the World Cup (2011) after 28 years and gave a terrific account of themselves in overseas Tests.
The slump in fortunes when he left was dramatic, only enhancing Kirsten’s legacy. But in the IPL, it is proving to be tough for the former SA opener. The coach, who has known no failures in his career, is now in charge of a team languishing at the bottom of the table.
It reignites the age-old debate: ‘Is the coach only as good as the team?’ For those who believe in the statement, like Shane Warne and Ian Chappell, there’s also the example of John Buchanan.
His stock was highest when he was in-charge of Australia. Apart from guiding them to back-to-back World Cup titles (2003 and 2007), his team decimated every opposition.
The IPL experience however turned sour for Buchanan as Kolkata Knight Riders (2009) finished at the bottom, losing 10 of their 14 games.
For Kirsten the national coach, he had MS Dhoni and Graeme Smith, but here his skipper is Kevin Pietersen, a bit volatile and unsettled.
It then brings up the question whether it has to do with the T20 format? Kirsten is not known to make many mistakes, but an exception is JP Duminy.
The left-hander is the form player but has been underutilised. The management is confused whether to use him as a finisher or at the top of the order.
“It is amazing how the game unfolds. As a coach you always sit with it, when do you sent him in? But one thing I can tell you is that as coaches we don’t get it right always. I am learning along the way, making a few mistakes,” said Kirsten, referring to the last game where Duminy was left with very few deliveries to face against Sunrisers Hyderabad.
The South African has five games left to avoid the Buchanan fate. “At this stage, we are happy to get a win. We are a new team, building together as a unit, and I think we have improved.”
Kirsten added, “That’s the important thing. We need a bit of a confidence as a unit, one or two key players need to make big contributions and turn it around,” said Kirsten. It has been a learning curve for me. Sometimes I get frustrated with us taking a couple of steps backwards but seldom has that happened. It always takes time to get your combination right.”