Just because Gary Kirsten prefers to do his work quietly, far from the media spotlight, people get the impression he is a bit soft. If you watched Kirsten bat in the course of his prolific career for South Africa, you would know the word ‘soft’ simply did not figure in Kirsten's vocabulary.
When he speaks, as the Indian coach did on Tuesday, Kirsten gives off a sense of quiet confidence. That's precisely the frame of mind the Indians will be in going into the final Test, but it was not always so.
Rewind to August 26, when the Indians had just walked off the field after being summarily dismissed by the hosts at Colombo. “There was tremendous hurt in the team after the loss and it started with Anil Kumble,” said Kirsten. “He is a fantastic leader and fighter. He has a tremendous work ethic and takes Test cricket very seriously. The great thing about his team is that they do hurt a lot when they lose. These guys take great pride in playing for India.
“It all started with Kumble when they lost the first Test and from there it filtered down to the rest of the team. And so, to be honest with you, to motivate the team to improve their performance by 20 per cent wasn't really difficult. I can sense that the team is ready to make history.”
But it was not Kumble alone who came in for high praise. While the captain is a proven commodity in world cricket, there’s a teenager almost half Kumble’s age who turned in a rousing performance. “He is a quality seamer. At the moment he stands out in the Indian set up,” said Kirsten of Ishant Sharma.
“He is probably our best seamer at the moment. There are always going to be little issues that he has to handle. He is a young bowler and he’s learning how to go about bowling in Test cricket. He is learning which are good areas to bowl. We do a strategy session where we talk about each opposition batsman. But sometimes for a young pacer all this can get quite confusing. So, at the end of the day, we tell him to bowl his natural length. When he is bowling his natural length he is as good as anyone in the world.”
Ishant provided the boost that India needed to seal the Test but it was Virender Sehwag who set it up in the first place. Kirsten explained that it was important Sehwag bat as only he can, for India to taste repeated success.
“Every player bats differently. The success of any Test side is how each batsmen sticks to his own skill, and works on one or two things that he can improve in his game,” said Kirsten. “We certainly don’t say: ‘Sehwag plays like this so the rest of the batsmen need to play like this’. He plays like that since he has the skill and ability to do so. But we wouldn’t want someone like Rahul Dravid to play like that.
“What we can do is ask Rahul what his plans are and see that he goes out to bat with a positive mind frame and do what he plans to do. If Sehwag gets 100 it is going to look very different to when Dravid gets 100. That's the make up of any Test side.”
When the final Test begins, you can bet Kumble and the boys will be hoping that Kirsten's domestic situation takes a turn for the better, and that they can win the Test for their coach.
Kirsten to fly home to ailing mother
Just when things began to go their way, India were dealt a blow with Gary Kirsten having to fly back home to South Africa urgently to be with his ailing mother. The BCCI said that Kirsten’s mother was ‘critically ill’ and that he had been granted leave to fly home immediately and would not be with the team for the third Test which begins at the P Saravanamuttu Stadium on Friday. No replacement would be needed, the Board added.
“I have complete faith in what Anil can do,” said Kirsten on Tuesday. “He can come and take over the reins. We had an extensive chat yesterday. There is calm focus about the team and there is a humility about how we are going to go about our business. There is no arrogance in the environment. The work will begin tomorrow.”
Paddy Upton, the mental conditioning coach who also doubles up as trainer, will team up with Kumble, Venkatesh Prasad (bowling coach) and Robin Singh (fielding coach) to provide the necessary support.
Initially the Board had planned to send Dilip Vengsarkar, the chairman of selectors for the final Test, but there was a last-minute change and Bhupinder Singh Sr, the selector from North Zone, will be with the team.