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Opening has its own challenges: Kirsten
- A TELEGRAPH EXCLUSIVE
- INDIA COACH REFLECTS ON HIS ’96 FEAT AT THE EDEN
THEN...
Kirsten after his century in the first innings at the Eden in November 1996. A file picture
... AND NOW
Kirsten with Virender Sehwag at the Eden on Wednesday. Picture by Santosh Ghosh

Calcutta: One of 42-year-old Gary Kirsten’s 101 Tests was at the Eden, back in November-December 1996. That’s when he authored a hundred in each innings (102, 133) and those two helped take his tally to 21 three-figure knocks.

On Wednesday, Kirsten, who has been the Team India coach for 21 months, spoke to The Telegraph about that Test. To ensure he didn’t have to breach his contract with the Board, there were absolutely no questions on his current assignment.

Following are excerpts

Q Thirteen years on, what are your memories of the hundred in each innings?

A It was a great occasion... I’d often tell the younger players in South Africa that their careers wouldn’t be complete till they’d played at the Eden... A hundred in each Test innings is something I’d been wanting to achieve and I’m glad I did so here.

What made the difference for you in that Test?

As I’ve said, I’d been wanting to have a hundred in each Test innings... From what I remember, it was a very good wicket to bat on and the atmosphere, with 80-90,000 fans, was just great. Actually, it was mind-blowing to see that many at a cricket ground.

Did the history bit of the Eden and the massive crowd itself leave you overawed?

I’d been prepared for it... I’d watched the South Africa-India ODI at the Eden in November 1991, the one which marked our return to international cricket... I’d seen the full house... Then, I’d heard players talk about the electric atmosphere... That it would be challenging, too... So, I was ready.

The previous Test (in Motera) had ended in a defeat for South Africa... Did you, personally, prepare any differently for the face-off at the Eden?

Not that I can recall... What I remember vividly is that an amazing number of people would watch us at nets! Lance Klusener’s eight-wicket haul in the second innings is what ensured a quick win for us... The Test, I think, finished with some hours to spare.

How did the team celebrate?

(Laughs) Don’t remember.

Herschelle Gibbs made his debut in that Test...

Yes, but he didn’t open... Andrew Hudson had been my opening partner and Gibbs batted at No.3... Well, it was the start of a long career.

What goes into the making of a quality opener?

Look, you need to work out your own game... After all, it’s a bit different with the new ball... If the wicket is good, then the margin of error is big... If the ball is seaming around, then the margin for an error is next to nothing... Opening the innings has its own challenges... The openers, remember, have to set the agenda... Get the platform ready. Today, you have exceptional openers for India — Virender Sehwag and Gautam Gambhir... They are different and complement each other.

Did you idolise an opener?

I looked up to our very own Jimmy Cook... Then, I used to admire Sunil Gavaskar... I liked Michael Atherton and Michael Slater as well... Actually, I looked up to non-openers, too, like an Allan Border. I really liked the (clinical) way he approached his batting.

The last one... Your return to the Eden, on Wednesday, must have been emotional...

Yes, I was looking forward to returning here, in this new role of mine... This time, I’m with my family (wife Deborah, sons Joshua and James).

INDIA vs SRI LANKA

Fourth match of the ODI series

SPONSORS: Karbonn Mobiles
VENUE: EDEN GARDENS, which has been hosting international cricket from 1934 (Jan 5-8) INDIA VS ENGLAND. The stadium hosted its first ODI on February 18, 1987 (INDIA VS PAKISTAN).
The normal capacity is around 87,000. But this time there only 44,703 seats available due to extensive renovation work going on.
THE WICKET: Normally a batting friendly wicket which gets a bit slower as the match progresses. Slow bowlers may come in handy during the second session of the match.
CURATOR PRABIR MUKHERJEE’S TAKE: It will be a firm, even bounce wicket. It will definitely help the batsmen. I would advise any team to bat first on this wicket.
WEATHER FORECAST: Mainly clear sky.

DEW FACTOR

• Virender Sehwag (captain, India): Dew has always been a factor at the Eden. I would prefer to field first keeping that in mind.
• Trevor Bayliss (sri lanka coach): Obviously, it’s going to be a factor. But if you score enough runs batting first, you put a lot of pressure on the opposition. It does not matter if there is dew or not.

FINAL THOUGHTS

• Jagmohan Dalmiya (CAB President): I am glad that we have been able to get everything ready for the match. Everyone is happy that the match is being held after such a long time. I hope we all get to see a great tie.

PLAYERS TO WATCH OUT FOR

INDIA

• VIRENDER SEHWAG: The stand-in captain’s cavalier approach at the start is what every team needs. Irrespective of the nature of wicket, quality of bowlers, Sehwag always plays his natural game. If India bat first and Sehwag gets going, the team can always expect a big total. If the team bat second, any total looks achievable. His off-breaks can also come in handy. The wicket of Kumar Sangakkara during the Cuttack ODI changed the complexion of the match.

• SACHIN TENDULKAR: If the great man is in the side, he will always remain a factor. For the record, Sachin doesn’t have a very good batting record at the Eden. He has scored only one ODI century (against Kenya) and will definitely like to add one more on Thursday. No treat can be bigger for the cricket crazy Calcuttans than a Tendulkar century. He missed out on his first century of the series in Cuttack by four runs. If India bowl second, his slow leg-breaks can prove to be useful during the middle overs.

• ASHISH NEHRA: He is now India’s new ‘King of Death’. Nehra has been a revelation since he made the comeback. Occasionally he has got hit during the first spells but he has come back very well during the second to pick up crucial wickets as well as keep the run-flow in check. He is also proving to be more effective as a one change bowler.

SRI LANKA

• TILLEKARATNE DILSHAN: He is probably in the form of his life and rival skipper Virender Sehwag admitted that there can’t be any gameplan to stop the Lankan opener from blasting the bowlers. A heroic 160 during the first ODI, match-winning century in the second and an 18-ball cameo (41, 10x4) in the third, there’s no stopping Dilshan. Not only does Sri Lanka’s starts depend on Dilshan but also on how big he can score. A fantastic fielder in the inner ring, the Indian batsmen will think twice before taking a run.

• KUMAR SANGAKKARA: He is another batsman on whom his team depends heavily. His soft dismissal in Cuttack led to a dramatic batting collapse. Sangakkara’s clean hitting is a treat for the eyes. He is lightning quick between the wickets. He hardly gets bogged down as he has the habit of rotating the strikes and then suddenly going into the attack mode. A safe wicketkeeper who has been consistent with the big gloves. Last but not the least, a leader who looks professional in approach and can lead the way with inspirational performances.

• SURAJ RANDIV: It’s not very easy to come in as a replacement for Muttiah Muralidharan. However, the offie hasn’t really looked out of place in the two matches he has played so far. In the first, he got three wickets and in the second he got the prized scalp of Gautam Gambhir. The Indian batsmen haven’t really been able to hit him out of the park. The Lankan captain would expect the youngster to keep up the steady show.

Sportsdesk

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