Mumbai: Dressed one last time in the Indian team blazer, outgoing cricket coach Gary Kirsten said bidding adieu to the team he helped win the World Cup was one of the hardest goodbyes he has ever had to make.
“A huge part of my heart remains in this incredible country,” said Kirsten, reading out from a statement at his final press conference at the Cricket Centre in Mumbai. Kirsten leaves for South Africa on Tuesday night.
The former South African opener had announced his decision to quit as India coach after the World Cup — India beat Sri Lanka in the World Cup final in Mumbai on Saturday — and said he had no immediate plans to take up any assignments. He said he wanted to spend time with his family, which includes two sons, and had even turned down a few offers for the Indian Premier League (IPL) starting 8 April.
Making special mention of captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni and Sachin Tendulkar, Kirsten thanked them, the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and cricket-loving people of this country for welcoming him and his family with “open arms”.
“Dhoni is the best captain in world cricket today,” said Kirsten during his 35-minute chat to reporters, though in his three-year stint with the Indian team, he seldom spoke to the press. “What makes him a good captain is he is a leader by example. I have never seen a guy give as much effort to every game he plays. He is calm and level headed. I have never seen him lose his temper. If things don’t go well, he takes that responsibility on his own shoulders. When the team loses, he feels it more than anyone else. For me, he is one of the great leaders of this country and has a huge amount to offer the country from a leadership point of view.”
Kirsten said coming into this job without any coaching experience, he used his reference points as a player to understand how he was going to work here. “It helped having no reference points because I had no idea what I was walking into. It doesn’t matter where you go around the world. You are a cricket coach. You do the same work. That’s what I have focused on,” said the 43-year-old who played 101 Tests for South Africa.
Repeatedly paying credit to his support staff of (mental conditioning expert) Paddy Upton and (bowling consultant) Eric Simmons, Kirsten added that as the No 1 Test team and having won the World Cup (India is ranked second in ODIs after Australia), there’s not much to improve for this team, though it needs to find two quality seamers who can stay in the team for a decent period of time. “This is as good as it gets. One can always look to improve, as people and cricketers. One thing I thought was really good over the last three games in the quarterfinals, semifinals and final was the way we fielded. That’s always been one discipline more than any other we have worked very hard on — our ground fielding. I was surprised how well the team fielded in those games.”
The BCCI is yet to announce the next coach for the Indian team but Kirsten maintains it will be tough for the new appointee “in terms of the standards set by the team. There would be no reason why this team should not continue with its success. The foundations have been set. The important thing for the new coach is to bring his freshness of ideas to the table but do it in a way that the Indian players are going to respond.”
Talking about the players, he said Virat Kohli was ready to play Test matches while Zaheer Khan was the best 135 kmph bowler in the world (he doesn’t like it when I call him medium to medium-fast). Kirsten said no player excited him more than the man-of-the-tournament Yuvraj Singh. “He made some personal decisions in his life (after being left out of the side for seven months). I got a sense that he was moving into a new space as a person six months ago. I could not believe how focused he was for this. The most impressive was how he decided he wanted to be one of the top fielders in the World Cup.”
Recollecting his initial objectives, Kirsten said he had wanted to create an environment where team was happy, felt as a family and operated as one team. “Sachin was the leader in that: a player so revered. He stood up and said some of the greatest achievements we have and are going to have, is because we love playing for Team India and not ourselves.”
“It makes me particularly proud that I have left this team with Sachin enjoying his cricket more than ever.”