Gary Kirsten - A coach and once upon a time an opening batsman
A tribute to ex South African opening batsman and coach Gary Kirsten on his 49th birthday
The law of conservation of energy states that ‘Energy can neither be created not destroyed; rather, it transforms from one form to another’. If we were to have a similar law for talent which would tell that talent can only be transformed from one form to another; then ex-South African cricketer and coach Gary Kirsten would be the perfect example of this law. The reason being that Kirsten has successfully donned different hats on and off the cricket field.
Today, when we hear the name Gary Kirsten, the first thing that comes to our mind is “coaching”. Now for a cricketer who has played over 100 Test matches for his country, such a thing is nothing short of amazing. It just goes to show that he has achieved a lot in life post-retirement as well. Taking the Indian team to the No. 1 position in Test matches, winning the 2011 World Cup with the Indian team & leading the South African Test team to No. 1 position are few credentials in Coach Kirsten’s resume.
A dependable opening batsman
But before all this coaching business began, Kirsten was a top-notch opening batsman in both Tests and ODIs. He made his debut in 1993 and over the next decade ensured that the South Africans had a dependable person at the top of the order.
Although he did not have the flair which one usually associates with southpaws; nonetheless he was a dependable opening batsman for the South Africans and for a greater part of his career was the most prized wicket for the opposition.
And his records are a testimony of his contribution at the top of the order for the Proteas. In 101 Test matches, he scored more than 7000 runs at an impressive average of over 45 with 21 centuries. While in ODIs, he played in 185 matches, scoring close to 7000 runs at an average of just above 40.
His best - 878 minutes & 275 runs
He enjoyed playing against England and scored more than 1600 Test runs at an average close to 50 against them. In fact, one of his greatest innings came against the Englishmen at Kingsmead, Durban in 1999 when he scored 275 runs (it was then the highest individual score by a South African in Test matches) in the second innings and saved the match for the Proteas.
South Africans were following-on and Kirsten played a marathon knock batting for over 14 and a half hours, it still stands as the second-longest innings (in terms of duration behind Hanif Mohammad’s 337 when he batted for over 16 hours) in Test cricket.
Kirsten is also one of the few players having a better away record. In 49 away Tests, he averaged more than 48 which is more than his career average of 45.
In ODIs, when Kirsten scores South Africa wins
In ODIs, his favourite opposition team was India (ironically a team which he later on helped to win the 2011 World Cup) against whom he scored more than 1600 runs at an astonishing average of 62.59. Even in ODIs, he had a penchant for playing long innings. He holds the South African record for the highest individual score in an ODI. He achieved this when he scored an unbeaten 188 runs against UAE in the 1996 World Cup.
During the 1990s, South Africans were a really strong team and in ODIs whenever Kirsten scored, more often than not his team was victorious. Out of his 13 ODI centuries, 12 have come in a winning cause. He also has an average of close to 50 in matches won by the Proteas.
Second Innings - Coaching
After hanging up his boots in 2004, Kirsten began his second innings in cricket. He coached the Indian team from 2008 till their World Cup triumph in 2011. And then he went back to coach his home country for the next couple of years. His success as a coach doesn’t need any testimonials.
But the rapport that he built with players during his tenure as a coach is commendable. It was the result of the love & the respect which the Indian players had for him, that made them carry ‘Guru Kirsten’ on their shoulders during a victory lap after the 2011 World Cup win. He had famously told about that India’s captain MS Dhoni that he would be prepared to go to war with Dhoni by his side.
Kirsten had a tricky role to play when he took up the role as the coach of the South African team in 2011. The team had players like Jacques Kallis & Mark Boucher with whom Kirsten had played a lot of cricket. So, Kirsten had to do certain things and behave in a certain way. As he himself once said in an interview, “As a coach, you can’t be seen as ‘one of the boys’.
Today, Kirsten is busy honing talent for the South African team through his cricket academy – The Gary Kirsten Cricket Academy. He has achieved all this in life before scoring a half-century in life, so one never knows what else he has stored up his sleeves. So, it may be too early to write a farewell from cricket for Gazza (as he is fondly called).