Gary Kirsten, who was one of the finest batsman in the modern era for South Africa, was at the helm of the Indian cricket team when they won the 2011 World Cup and also secured the No.1 Test ranking in the world.
Left-handers have always made a massive impact on the fortunes of the Indian cricket team in the modern era. Sourav Ganguly, the Prince of Kolkata, transformed India into world-beaters under his captaincy stint when India entered the new millennium. Yuvraj Singh became India’s greatest match-winner in the history of the game with his brilliance for the big occasion. The trio would not be complete without the mention of Gary Kirsten.
Kirsten, one of the finest players to have come out of South Africa after the end of their international isolation, came to the Indian team when they were in crisis. But, after having won the ICC World T20 before Kirsten came on board in December, there was renewed confidence in the Indian side. Under the leadership of MS Dhoni, India had found ways to win in any condition.
Dhoni’s calmness and Kirsten’s excellent man-management skills and focus saw India achieve stratospheric heights. Kirsten is nowadays considered more of an Indian rather than a South African, such was his prowess.
The first major task for India was to ensure they were the best in all the formats. The quest began in Australia. In the aftermath of the Monkeygate scandal that forged a sense of unity and purpose in the team, India broke the fear factor that Australia had instilled in their opponents. In the aftermath of the scandal in Sydney which many fans believed robbed India of a win or draw, Dhoni’s team registered a stunning turnaround.
They won the CB tri-series for the very first time in their history. From that moment, India was in top form as they continued their surge in other formats. They defeated Australia for the first time in seven years at home. A magnificent Test run and ODI run, combined with a T20 run, saw India build a base for domination. In 2009, they scaled the summit of the Test rankings for the first time in their history.
But, it was not smooth sailing for Kirsten and India in his tenure. They failed to make it to the knockout stages of the tournament in the 2009 and 2010 ICC World T20. They also failed in the ICC Champions Trophy in 2009 in South Africa. But, India was building a core of players who would deliver on the big stage. The arrival of Virat Kohli, Suresh Raina was an addition of two more potent strings in the Indian team bow.
Kirsten and India were gearing up for the ICC World Cup in 2011. This would be the first time in 15 years that India would be hosting the World Cup. India had a solid performance in the build-up to the World Cup. They drew a series in South Africa and lost the ODIs after a tough fight. They had a core of players who were playing with each other for years. Armed with the comfort of home conditions, India was the favorite to win the tournament.
India had a great run in the tournament, losing only one game to South Africa in the league stages but winning against West Indies and tieing against England. In the knock-out stages, India finally got the better of Australia after 24 years in Ahmedabad. India managed to get the better of their arch-rivals Pakistan in Mohali in the semifinal. On the grand occasion of the final, India put up a fantastic performance to win the World Cup after 28 years.
The joy for Kirsten and the billions of Indians reflected the mood of the side. Kirsten said it was one of his ultimate career highlights. No.1 in Tests and now World Cup winners. For any coach, it was a dream addition to their CV.
The South African would achieve greatness even for his former side. When he took over as the coach of South Africa, he helped them to the No.1 rank. His crowning glory was series wins in Australia and England in 2012 that helped South Africa regain the Test mace.
For Kirsten, it was a double delight both as a player and as a coach. As a player, he was South Africa’s best Test opener. He was the first to 5000 runs in Tests and he also went on to play 100 Tests. Along with these stats, he held the record for the joint-highest individual score for South Africa in Tests when he smashed 275 against England in Durban. Eight out of his 22 hundreds were above 150. He joined Steve Waugh and Rahul Dravid as the other players who had hit centuries against all nine Test-playing nations at that time.
If there is a checklist of what has to be achieved in the world of cricket, then Gary Kirsten fits the bill perfectly. In the wake of India’s continued poor show in ICC events since 2013, the achievements of Kirsten are still looked upon fondly.