After retirement from an illustrious cricket playing career, Gary Kirsten established his Cricket Academy in Constantia, Cape Town. However, in November 2007, the BCCI offered him a two-year contract as the head coach of Team India. Despite voicing reservations over concerns he had about having the full support of India players, he confirmed he would be taking the job on 4 December 2007.
Gary officially started as coach on 1 March 2008 and his first assignment was against his home country, South Africa, which was a drawn 1-1 Test series. During his tenure as Coach of India, the team won a home Test series against Australia, beating them 2-0. He also coached India to the finals of the Kitply Cup and 2008 Asia Cup, both ODI competitions, as well as India’s first bilateral series win against Sri Lanka in Sri Lanka and India’s first ODI series victory against New Zealand in New Zealand after 40 years. India also won the Compaq Cup, defeating Sri Lanka in the finals on 14 September 2009.
By early December that year, millions of Indians were celebrating the Number One Test ranking too after Gary had overseen the team beating Sri Lanka in Mumbai, to clinch a three-match series 2-0. This was one of the highlights of his tenure.
After the tour of South Africa, which India drew 1-1 in the Test series, Gary announced he would not renew his contract with the BCCI because of family commitments. He ended his tenure as coach with another major highlight, India winning the 2011 Cricket World Cup by defeating Sri Lanka on 2 April 2011 at Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai, India. During the celebration, he was carried around the ground by Suresh Raina, Yusuf Pathan and Virat Kohli to show their respect.
Gary Kirsten was praised by all Indian players for improving and enhancing their playing techniques, motivating them and discussing tactics that can be deployed on the field. The results were clearly seen within months of his appointment. He was considered the key force behind the clearly visible performance improvement in all Indian players and captain M.S. Dhoni described him as “The best thing to have happened to Indian cricket.”
Another Indian legend, Sunil Gavaskar, summed up his time with the team, by saying: “His biggest contribution was that he not only brought a sense of self-belief, but also calm and trust in the dressing room after the earlier period where players did not know whom to trust.”
South Africa (2011 – 2013)
In June 2011, Gary Kirsten was appointed the head coach of the South African national cricket team and began the process of unlocking the potential within the local cricket system. In August 2012 his efforts were rewarded when South Africa beat in England in England 2-0 to rise to Number One in the Test team ranking.
Under Gary’s guidance, the Proteas lost only two of the 19 Test matches they played, claiming series victories against New Zealand, Australia, England, Sri Lanka and Pakistan. Their one-day international record was not as emphatic, albeit still respectable, with 13 of their 24 games ending in victory. In the T20 format, the Proteas won half of their 18 games during his tenure.
In the month preceding the 2013 ICC Champions Trophy, Gary announced his decision to leave his position as head coach of the national side to spend more time with and concentrate on his young family. He would perform his duties until the end of the Champions Trophy, while his assistant, Russell Domingo, was subsequently named as his successor.
The Champions Trophy proved to be one step too far, though, as not even one of the most successful coaches in South Africa’s cricketing history was able to claim success at an ICC event. Kirsten was unfortunate in that two of his top batsmen, Jacques Kallis and Graeme Smith, missed the tournament, and his front line bowlers Morne Morkel and Dale Steyn succumbed to injuries during the group stages. The Proteas managed to reach the semi-finals but lost to hosts England, who, in turn, lost to Kirsten’s former team, India, in the finals.
As a coach and mentor to some of the greatest players in the history of cricket, Gary Kirsten has needed to understand the dynamics that would see them perform consistently over a period of time and when it mattered most. Creating a winning culture and self-belief in both the Indian and South Africa teams had been a process.
The experience and insight gained throughout his tenure as coach of both powerful test playing nations has included far more than cricket itself. It is his skill for getting the best out of his players whilst maintaining their respect both on and off the field that has made him an inspirational leader. Under his guidance the Team India united a nation to achieve a dream and the South African team returned to the coveted Number One Test ranking.