Kirsten’s tenure as India coach saw the Test side top the charts and win the 2011 World Cup.
Kirsten is now batting coach and mentor of Royal Challengers Bangalore.
“Any guy with half a cricket eye would have known that Kohli was going to be a great player,” Kirsten said.
BENGALURU: A book filled with notes on players is Gary Kirsten’s constant companion. Be it a practice session or the strategic time-out during an IPL match, the Royal Challengers Bangalore batting coach and mentor is constantly making notes and speaking to players – the youngsters especially – about what they are doing right or wrong. Although the Virat Kohli-led side has gotten off to a wobbly start, Kirsten is confident they will soon find their feet. He is keen to make a difference and, given that the 50-year-old is no stranger to franchise cricket, he believes he can.
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Four years after his retirement from international cricket in 2004, Kirsten took the big leap into coaching with the Indian cricket team. His four-year tenure – the most successful for India – saw the Test side top the charts and win the 2011 World Cup. After a rather unsuccessful stint with Delhi Daredevils, the South African returned to IPL this season having coached the Hobart Hurricanes in the Australian Big Bash recently. Kirsten spoke about the challenges of coaching in franchise cricket, the relevance of Test cricket, Kohli and more.
Coaching a franchise vs national side: It is different because with a franchise team, your stakeholders are regional. You have the owner who shows a particular interest in the success of the team. The focus and the attention is narrow. Whereas with an international team, the stakeholders are the entire country. It is a much bigger journey and a lot more people are involved in the success of the team.
On the progress of Virat Kohli: It is great to be working with Virat again because he started when I was the coach. We had a lot of conversations early in his career about how he needs to set up his game. We knew he was going to be a great player, it was just a question of when and how he needed to play to be able to achieve the consistency in his game. A lot of those conversations have in many ways given him some of the thinking around how he needs to build his game. That has been fun. To come back and start working with him again to see how he is going, we are just kind of building that relationship again. I am really enjoying it.
What did you see in Kohli? Any guy with half a cricket eye would have known that he was going to be a great player. His hunger for runs, his ball-striking ability – we are talking 2008 – he hit the ball to all parts of the ground, got natural power and then the determination to go with it. He had the hunger to be great. It was all there. That’s one of the easier recruitments you could make.
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On the maturity in him: It has been an amazing natural progression. As he moves into this next phase – he has gone from the prodigious talent to the high performer, the challenge now is to maintain consistency for a long period of time, to grow his leadership base and he is doing that because I think it is an ongoing process. He seems to be in a space where he is really willing to take the learning that’s needs to be taken.
On joining RCB: It’s early days. I think every franchise develops and they progress into doing things slightly differently. I think T20 cricket is moving that way. It’s becoming scientific now. There is a lot of interest in understanding the value of players and I have certainly taken a lot of learning from being involved internationally for five years and now the last three or four years being involved domestically in understanding recruitment which I think is becoming important.
On adapting to coaching in T20 cricket: I still think the art of coaching separates itself from just using data to make decisions. Coaching essentially is about managing people and about getting the best out of them. I don’t think any data can give you those answers. I like the relationship between the two. I think they work well together. But I still think coaching in T20 cricket, where you are involved very much in the success of the team, is determined largely by making sure that that relationship works alongside one another.
On managing players’ workload: It’s quite difficult. You have a squad of 25 players. The biggest challenge you have often in IPL squads is not the 15 players that have every chance of playing matches through the IPL. It’s the other players who aren’t going to get a game but are part of the squad. It’s tough to manage those guys. They are here for two months and not getting much game-time. I would love it if IPL suggested maybe, a kind of a second XI competition where there are matches being played for those who aren’t getting any game-time.
On slam-bang perception of T20 cricket: It is entertainment, it is instant gratification, and it is becoming more relevant because that’s where sport is going in the world. You take all other sport and you take the millennial generation and they want instant entertainment. I think T20 cricket has lined itself up with the needs of the modern generation. With the increased interest in T20 cricket comes a greater demand on performance. Players would be fools not to take these two months seriously because their value can drop significantly in the space of half an IPL. And at the same time, if they do really well, they can set themselves up for a number of years financially.
On using T20 to get people interested in other formats: In South Africa, the crowds are dwindling in 50-over cricket and Test cricket. I don’t know what it’s like in India. In England, in Australia, people still go watch Test cricket. That will probably need to be answered per region. It will be interesting to see the statistics around, whether T20 cricket has become more relevant in terms of interest for the game compared to other formats. I am a Test cricketer. I grew up playing Test cricket and understanding it and learning it and enjoying it. But I have young kids and in my own household, we watch less Test cricket and more T20 cricket. We sit as a family and watch the end of a T20 game because we all enjoy it.
What can be done to keep Test cricket relevant? I think there are too many Test matches that are of little relevance to anyone. If you can create a context around every Test being played, you will maintain a level of interest in the world of instant gratification. People need to know every year who the world champion Test team is. The fact that there will be a Test match final, maybe, would pique the interests of the people around the world. It is possible to have a 10-Test match league around all the 10 Test-playing nations around the world? Do we have a bonus points system? Would it be possible? I think it could be. The ICC have bigger issues in terms of revenue generation. You need to keep the game relevant around the world.
On ball-tampering: There is no place for ball-tampering. Reverse swing is very entertaining to watch. I am a cricket lover and I enjoy watching the ball reverse swing. Didn’t enjoy facing it as a player, though! The question is, how do you introduce it in a way that is legal?