Calling Gary Kirsten the Dronacharya of the Indian cricket team doesn’t do him full justice. When he was appointed by the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) as the coach of the team in late 2007, India was still having trepidations about having a foreigner coaching a talented but unstable bunch.
New Zealander John Wright and Australian Greg Chappell handled the team in their distinctive ways, but debates about clash of cricketing cultures continued to crop up even as Kirsten started the second innings of his career with India’s tour to South Africa. Those were still difficult times where instead of balls hitting stumps and bats hitting leather, egos knocked against each other to make raucous sounds on and off the playing field. Kirsten’s entry saw the beginning of Team India play as one fighting unit. He may have provided a secret potion that unified and galvanised a team that not only started winning matches and series but also won them as a No. 1 team.
Which is why more than Dronacharya, Kirsten should be seen as Getafix, the druid in Asterix comics. Instead of reinventing the wheel, Kirsten made the likes of Sachin Tendulkar (the Obelix in the team who fell into a cauldron of magic potion as a child to gain permanent ‘superhuman’ powers) play seamlessly with the other talents in the team. There was only one objective: to win and win consistently.
Coaching India isn’t the most relaxing of jobs going around. With a billion-plus cricketing pundits and as many people who expect instant results, the coach of the Indian team was never an enviable job. But Kirsten pulled it off — and not only by pushing India to lift the World Cup but to be there to nudge the three-year train up a tricky terrain across all forms of the game. On Tuesday, Kirsten officially bid goodbye to return to his family in South Africa. The country should fare him well and do him the honours by acknowledging his tremendous role in stirring and serving a magic potion whose effects we’ll be savouring for a long time.