Calcutta: Eleven years after being highly critical of the country, South African Gary Kirsten (a one-time stand-in captain) has emerged the latest No. 1 choice for the Team India coach’s job.
The ball, indeed, is in the 40-year-old left-hander’s court.
Kirsten has been offered a two-year contract and his basic salary could be in the region of $300,000 annually.
The coach’s post has been vacant since early April, when Greg Chappell decided not to seek an extension. Since then, of course, we’ve had a series of cricket managers — Ravi Shastri, Chandu Borde and Lalchand Rajput.
Borde and Shastri are former captains.
In what came as a surprise, the Sharad Pawar-headed Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) interviewed Kirsten in New Delhi late on Monday.
It was a hush-hush affair, much in contrast to the popping of flashbulbs in Chennai, some five months ago, when Graham Ford and John Emburey were interviewed.
Ford, also a South African, initially agreed to come on board. Less than 48 hours later, however, the BCCI was left red-faced as he conveyed his regrets.
Such is the BCCI’s functioning that Kirsten was interviewed soon after secretary Niranjan Shah informed the media “…There is no need to hold a meeting… The (special) committee members can discuss over the phone and take a decision.”
So much for Pawar’s pledge to be transparent.
The interview was conducted by six members of the seven-man committee having responsibility for finding Chappell’s successor.
Besides Pawar, Shah and BCCI treasurer N. Srinivasan, the three one-time captains — Srinivas Venkatraghavan, Sunil Gavaskar and Shastri — were present. Joint-secretary Mohinder Pandove was the sole absentee.
Interestingly, Test captain Anil Kumble was a special invitee. Strangely, the ODI and Twenty20 captain, Mahendra Singh Dhoni, wasn’t called.
According to Shastri, the interview (which took place at Pawar’s 6 Janpath residence) lasted “around 30 minutes.”
“We’re negotiating with Gary… At this stage, it won’t be proper to say anything more… We don’t need to rush and he has been given time… Everything will be clear in a week,” Shastri told The Telegraph.
He dismissed speculation that he’d been the one to do all the pre-interview talking with Kirsten.
“No… All of us on the committee spoke to him…”
Shastri added: “To put the record straight, I didn’t meet Gary during the World Twenty20 in South Africa.”
Still, what’s more likely is that the former captains, particularly Gavaskar and Shastri himself, did the spadework.
As a batsman, Kirsten has been one of the greats (strongly influenced by Allan Border) of the modern era, but little is known about his credentials as coach.
What we do know is that he was Cricket South Africa’s High- Performance Manager for a couple of years and has been associated with academies.
Kirsten, by the way, has confirmed that he wasn’t on the list of 20- 22 to have formally applied to the BCCI.
Given that we have a specialist bowling coach (Venkatesh Prasad), it has been taken for granted that Chappell’s successor, too, is going to be a batsman.
Rajput’s term ends with the third and final Test of the ongoing series, in Bangalore, and the BCCI is keen that Kirsten makes himself available from the start of the series in Australia.
The first Test, which begins on Boxing Day, is in Melbourne.
EXCERPTS FROM KIRSTEN’S 1996-97 INDIA TOUR DIARY
Sixty-two days in a country where westernised living conditions are regarded a luxury is no task for the faint-hearted.
To spread cricket to all corners of India, we played in what could politely be classed as one-horse towns, places with more cows on the street than cars.
I’ll never forget arriving in Rajkot — laughter broke out in the bus when we were told we had reached our hotel, yet there didn’t seem to be one in sight. It was actually above another building… A sense of humour is a necessity on this tour.
Travelling was an interesting experience: There was seldom a direct flight to our next destination… To expect teams to perform at consistently high levels when faced with such arrangements is absurd and unfair on the players, who are judged on every single performance.
Food is a major topic of conversation in India. In a westernised country, you survive on certain types of food which are virtually non-existent here.
We tried some of the local meat (in Ahmedabad) but when we were told it was water buffalo — we tended to stay away from red meat after that.
Socialising in India is pretty much hotel-bound — there are no real places to go out. It gets quite boring and tedious trying to occupy yourself — one of the rigours of touring India.
There are very few new cars, and most are dented and in bad shape. There’s no point in having a decent car in India because it will get wrecked in no time.
There are people sleeping on the streets, and acres and acres of slums and shack dwellings.
Note: Published in the December 1996-January 1997 issue of SA Cricket Action. These excerpts were reproduced in The Telegraph on January 4, 1997