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By Partab Ramchand
A great player need not necessarily be a great coach. Very different qualities and credentials are needed for the latter and cricket history is strewn with names of good players who did not make it big as coaches as also those with a limited record as players but who were successful coaches. In India we have had the recent example of Greg Chappell. One of the greatest cricketers of all time he took over the post amidst a lot of goodwill and a sense of optimism. Two years later his term ended prematurely amidst a lot of gloom and distrust and acrimony following India’s ignominious first round exit in the 2007 World Cup.
On the other hand we have also had the example of John Buchanan who did not play in any international match and had a limited first class record but who was in charge of the all conquering Australian teams under Steve Waugh and Ricky Ponting. Admittedly the Aussie squads were one of the greatest of all time with a number of great players but I sometimes wonder whether Buchanan has received enough credit for moulding the team into one formidable unit.
Over the years the role of a coach has become more and more important. With the increase in the number of teams playing international cricket there is inevitably numerous tournaments and high level competitions and winning has became that much more imperative thanks also to the huge sums of money involved. That is why besides the coach you have a batting coach, a bowling coach, a fielding coach along with various support staff. Physios are now part of the squad as injuries are now more common thanks to the vast number of matches being played round the year. And cricket being a mind game has brought the psycho analysts into the picture to make the players mentally strong.
Coaching now has became highly scientific and professional. It is a far cry from the days when the coach was seen during the practice sessions hitting the ball for players to field and take catches besides of course supervising the net sessions. Man management skills are now the topmost priority in a coach’s CV. Every team has players who are different in their physique, in their mental strength and in their background. The coach has to attend to each cricketer’s needs in a special way. He should also instill a sense of self belief in them and see that they play above their potential.
One of the reasons why Gary Kirsten was such a success is that he did just that. Sachin Tendulkar for one made it clear that Kirsten was a success as he allowed the team to be themselves. ``He has allowed the natural instincts of the players to flourish’’ said Tendulkar. On his part Virender Sehwag 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.
Another player who showed vast improvement under Kirsten was Gautam Gambhir. The left handed opener has had no doubts about Kirsten’s contribution. ``Gary is the best coach India has ever had,’’ he said a few months ago. ``I don’t have to speak much about him. His fabulous record speaks for itself. He has been a great man manager.’’
With Kirsten in charge there was a spontaneous camaraderie among the Indian players that had not been seen before. And in this amiable atmosphere great things were achieved. Harbhajan made a very interesting observation not too long ago 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. That gives a player a lot of confidence,’’ observed the ace off spinner.
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.’’ He certainly was a refreshing change from the autocratic Chappell. And as Duncan Fletcher takes over he would do very well in following Kirsten’s footsteps. The former Zimbabwe captain and England coach inherits a well settled team and a successful blueprint has already been laid down by Kirsten so it is best that Fletcher does not tinker too much with the system. If he just follows Kirsten’s mantra all will be fine for him and the Indian team.