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Gary Kirsten is a refreshing change from the autocratic Chappell
by Partab Ramchand
Apr 16, 2009
Happy and confident. These two words would sum up the mood of the Indian camp these days. Harbhajan Singh is convinced that India has the team that can beat anyone anywhere and has set his sights on a Test century. VVS Laxman says it was a truly professional performance that sealed the series triumph in New Zealand. Virender Sehwag has hailed Gautam Gambhir has the best Indian opening batsman since Sunil Gavaskar. Gambhir in turn says that such a tribute coming from his favourite player means a lot to him. Sachin Tendulkar has in the meanwhile showered praise on Gary Kirsten to make sure the coach gets his share of the credit for the team's run of successes.

There is spontaneous camaraderie among the Indian players that has not been seen before. And in this amiable atmosphere great things can be achieved. Harbhajan made a very interesting observation the other day when he said the main reason why India have been able to build on the winning momentum in recent times is that the players are no more insecure about their place in the side. He was of the view that the team management's belief in the players has helped them counter all sorts of conditions. "Why we are winning is because we are playing good cricket," Harbhajan said. "Everyone is performing, everyone is willing to be a champion. A lot of credit must go to the support staff and team management for giving the surety to all the players that they would be getting at least 10-15 games. That gives a player a lot of confidence. This team can beat any side."

Compare the scenario to the one that existed two years at the end of the disastrous World Cup campaign in the Caribbean. Coach Greg Chappell rightly got most of the flak for the shock first round exit of the Indian team and much of the non-performance stemmed from the fact that the Indians were not a happy unit. Chappell obviously failed in his role as a motivator and as an inspiring father figure. That is a coach's main role.

Chappell was an unmitigated failure because he failed to adapt. Thanks to his abrasive approach the Indians tactically, technically and temperamentally were playing like losers. They went about their tasks like lost lambs in the great African jungle. But perhaps the most important reason was that they did not appear to be a happy lot. And why were the players not happy? Because the side had been tinkered with and there was a sense of insecurity among some of the team members. Because they had lost the winning habit and nothing was being done to revive it. Questions were asked openly and agitatedly. Was the coach doing his job effectively? Was he fulfilling his responsibilities? Was he being the guiding spirit a good coach is expected to be? Had he provided a touch of inspiration in keeping with his reputation as one of the giants of post-war Australian cricket?

Yes, as much as the players the team management has to be given credit for fostering a sense of team spirit and goodwill among the members and Kirsten certainly should get his share of the credit. Tendulkar for one has made it clear that Kirsten has been a success as he has allowed the team to be themselves. "He has allowed the natural instincts of the players to flourish" said Tendulkar. Cricket is also played in the mind and Kirsten has had a major role in this very important aspect of the game. The former South African opening batsman along with his support staff - bowling coach Venkatesh Prasad, fielding coach Robin Singh and mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton has no doubt helped create this healthy environment.

It is not just Tendulkar who has spoken highly of Kirsten's understated approach that has helped the Indians to one success after another. Not too long Sehwag also had praised Kirsten hailing him "the best I have ever seen." Sehwag put it simply when he said that Kirsten "doesn't force things on you." It is well known that Chappell had tried to get Sehwag to change his batting style and this led to serious differences between the two. It may be difficult to believe but Chappell apparently wanted the most gifted and uncomplicated batting stylist, the most natural striker in the contemporary game to visit psychologists in a bid to curb his instincts.

That great players do not necessarily make good coaches is an accepted truism in the world of sport. Playing is one thing while coaching requires different skills altogether. A good coach has to be firm, yet at times diplomatic. He should be able to get his point across without ruffling too many feathers. He has to be excellent at man management, at getting the best out of the players under his command. He has to motivate the players to give off that little extra when the situation demands. It is here that John Wright was seen in better light than Chappell who also compares unfavorably with Kirsten for the same reasons.

Right now the dressing room atmosphere is upbeat and Kirsten should be given a lot of credit for this. Kirsten spelt out his policy clearly in an interview sometime back. "These are international cricketers and they know how to succeed. But whenever they need me for anything I am always there." What a refreshing change from the autocratic Chappell.
More Views by Partab Ramchand
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