Posts Tagged ‘Gary Kirsten’

Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

Every time I see South Africa crashing out of ICC Tournaments, I find myself placed amidst the conundrums of existentialist thoughts. I’ve always admired the way the Proteas go about their business, and my unequivocal backing was justified when AB De Villiers took over the skipper’s mantle.

Though neither wholly innocent nor wholly naïve, he admitted to his team giving their ‘very best, but simply not good enough’, albeit losing to a better unit those days. In simple words, the Proteas had complied with every facet guaranteeing victory but the opposition had more check boxes to tick – which they did in its entirety.

All this, AB dealt with persuasively – a reminiscence of what prior captains have done at the end of ICC tournaments. But for a change, his odiousness towards his team being referred to as ‘Chokers’ has taken a reversing – he’s been blatant enough to admit that the dubious tag being carried may have some substance behind its origins. Had it not been for their large funds of astonishing scorecards, history would have judged them more kindly.

History hasn’t judged me kindly either – I’m always at the receiving end of cheeky texts whenever the South Africans choke. I’ve backed them ever since I started following cricket. And when times become hard (and let me point out that I back Liverpool FC), I’m always asked that obnoxiously unanswerable question: Why?

Taking South Africa to a title triumph in limited overs formats will be priority for Kirsten and Co.

If I were to let my mind navigate around thoughts with respect to a profession I choose, I’m quite certain that such anxiety would’ve compelled me to have considered chronic job-hopping. But sport is different – and that is what makes it unique. In sport, it isn’t ideal to subscribe to the “love your job, not your company” philosophy – the minute you embed yourself to supporting a team, it is a bond that none can break.

As an Indian, I find it natural to support my nation at the International Stage. And as the old cliché goes, you can’t choose your relatives but you can choose your friends. That is one of the reasons so much of what I have come to think of as logical and passionate support was really worked out during the first few years of my exposure to sport.

I was drawn in to admiring the South Africans primarily because their fielding unit stood out from the rest. As kids, we naturally incline towards worshipping players who defy gravity to exhibit stunning catches – and the South Africans were (and still are) the best in the business. And what sticks to your mind as a kid, sticks for a long time to come – even the antics of Hansie Cronje didn’t deter me away from rooting for the South Africans – apart from India that is.

Following them has taken me through the high of witnessing a record ODI chase accomplished, and sink through the perils of D/L Math extracts that caused enough offence to sack Shaun Pollock in 2003. And their laconic trysts in the latter stages of ICC Tournaments still continue to bemuse many. Is it really as much a case of pressure as it is about ill-luck? Not always. Innings collapses aren’t necessarily what the doctor orders – it is what they have brought on to themselves. Only a D/L sheet with numbers as illegible as a doctor’s prescription would’ve caused the fiasco of 2003.

I was fortunate to meet Dr. Peter Kremer, a former Sports Psychologist with the Victoria State Cricket Association, during my stay in Sri Lanka. We met at the Premadasa during the game between Ireland and Australia. I never got a chance to talk to him about South Africa, but I do recall him mentioning a particular challenge he’d consistently faced during his tenure – players getting in to their comfort zones. The easiest thing, he said, was for a player to throw his hands up, admit that he isn’t good enough to sustain at higher levels, and continue to ply his trade in familiar waters.

Now before you read between the lines here, I don’t mean to say that the South Africans have almost swallowed a sense of inevitability that they could be the best team around without an ICC Trophy in their cabinet. You cannot question their effort, or commitment. But their ability to react to pressure has been under constant scrutiny.

Having ceded to mental issues in ICC tournaments, de Villiers will have to play a pivotal role in turning it around for the Proteas in the immediate future. Image: Reuters

You might not like the physics of gravity but you can’t change the fact that objects fall to the ground because of it. Likewise, if the Proteas cannot find a way to embrace pressure (and expectations), that elusive treasure – spelt an ICC Trophy – could be very hard to come by. I’m not qualified enough to comment on their methods, given that from a thousand miles away, I’ve got very little exposure to their system. But a consistent run of familiar collapses, less true this particular tournament given that they were straight-forward ‘KO’ed, only raises further question marks.

The current system, which is certainly better than the alternatives that seemed to have propped up during the transition stage, has undergone changes, and with Gary Kirsten at the helm, they have a player who has tasted ultimate glory as coach. Kirsten’s methods in India are well documented – he focused on three things: simplicity, simplicity and simplicity. And when you tend to fragment issues that appear complex on face value, the constituents are largely simple.  His record of 0-9 in Super Eight matches with India and South Africa now in three World T20s is a cause of concern and he will be the first to know. You can expect him and his crew to have analysed selection, approach and mindset from these games to be better prepared in two years’ time.

In Hashim Amla, they have undoubtedly one of the most polished batsmen (all three formats included) in International Cricket. He hasn’t looked out of place in any of the formats over the best part of the last two years. He exudes a certain class that few men possess, and a temperament that even fewer share. I’ve written about de Villiers before and my opinion on AB hasn’t changed – I would only wish that South Africa find a ‘full-time’ wicketkeeper in Tests, for AB is too valuable a batsman to suffer from the excess baggage of having to keep in Tests. But again, Test Cricket is out of context given the theme of this piece.

Similarly, the bowling department boasts of the most lethal fast bowler in international cricket, ably supported by resources who wouldn’t find it hard to walk in to the playing XI of other nations. Their bag of big hitters – from David Miller to Albie Morkel – is aptly full, and their spin department could do with a bit more flair. Tahir, at best, has looked average when compared to his counterparts from around the world. If there is an inert area of concern, it is only the quality of their spin bowling.

Kirsten’s box of worries appear complex when judged on face value, but when you break it up in to pieces, the end result is a list of fifteen odd players possessing immense talent. They have performed cohesively as a unit – they’ve won dramatic games together, and they’ve crashed out of tournaments together. They’ve performed well at home, and they’ve performed better (in some cases) away from home.  What they’ve probably not done is to avoid playing the game of dominos together.

But the camouflage could well be the fact that the team isn’t greater than the sum of the individual parts. And that, ultimately, is Kirsten’s challenge.


Chandrasekhar Jayaramakrishnan

October 27, 2011

It is now apparent that the year 2011 will be remembered for symmetrical disasters, focusing two nations that destructed the enemy on their own soils. Both these nations were made to portray a political peacock, powerless to manage their own vanities away from home.

The shift in cricketing super powers, of late, is happening at a rate unseen in cricket before. History will depict clearly that when the British Empire started entering its period of decline, the West was waiting, and ready, to take over the role of attaining global supremacy. It is about getting your best resources ready, as my colleague Goutham Chakravarthi pointed out in his recent article, with the best laid plans to counter your enemy and ascend to the top.

The 5-0 whitewash of England, a score line that would flatter any Indian fan when he goes through the scorecards some day in the future, paints a picture of a team that simply wasn’t ready to build its fortresses in stone as it travels across the world. But the bigger question remains: will the tilt in scales assist India in carving a path to supremacy that they had against their names, in the form of ICC Rankings, until a few months ago?

A lot would depend on how these ‘resources’ are handled. Time and again, the renowned cliché of great sides having great bowling units that can take 20 wickets, has come to haunt the Indians and impose a harsh reality check against this aspect of their supremacy. The long renowned criticism was that centric around the Indian bowlers lacking in pace, a theory whose hypothesis was proven recently by Zaheer Khan’s postulates on the inability of Indian players’ bodies not being designed to bowl fast.

Zaheer had raised a few eyebrows with his Theory on Indian Fast Bowlers

As farcical as this might sound to a few, especially when India’s neighbors to the Northwest churn our products that who are quick, Zaheer’s theory has a fundamental flaw. Historically, Indian fans have witnessed young, exciting talent who enter the arena with commendable speeds only to find that with time, their speeds decay exponentially to embarrassing levels. Likewise, genuine swing bowlers who’ve attempted to bowl fast to exclude themselves from this bracket of embarrassing entities have lost their art, almost mysteriously.

But any Indian fan would welcome the sight of a bowler who can put Zaheer’s theory to rest. After all, if neutrinos have suddenly emerged to question the validity of Einstein’s theories – that were based on the fact that particles that travel faster than light practically cannot exist – some bowlers could opt for the neutrino route to travel back in time and make Zaheer eat his words. After all, physics and cricket do mix – remember why the ball swings?

When Ishant Sharma was at his rampant best, during the tour of Australia back in 2008, I recall Harsha Bhogle making a statement along the lines of, “If anyone advises this kid to reduce his speed so that he sustain for longer periods in international cricket without being a victim of injuries, we’ll have to snap their hands off.”  I couldn’t have agreed with him more, and unfortunately, our worst fears came true.

The inherent drawbacks of having men in cricketing bodies across the country, mainly politicians and businessmen unqualified to run cricket, the sport revives itself in the worst possible way – similar to how the current Congress government has inflicted damage to the nation: the poor and the middle class will pay, in eternity, for the numerous sins of the powerful.  

So, can these resources be ready for war if the number of brick walls to climb internally is aplenty? If there are larger interests ahead that deviate the focus away from the core values of the sport, will it be reasonable for a fan to hope for an extended run at the top of the rankings? Yes, I know India has just whitewashed England at home, but I’d still like to think that England’s own flaws had a greater bearing on the result than India’s brilliance, which, I of course do not doubt.

With a challenging tour to Australia fast approaching, India can take a leaf out of England’s Ashes preparation last winter – a factor whose absence qualified (and quantified) India’s miserable display in England earlier this year. It might make a lot of sense to start afresh and build gradually on success, forgetting the fact that India were world beaters, if I may use the term, until not too long ago.

The platform now seems particularly ripe for a plan that can provide sufficient insurance to the impressive young crop of players who’ve done so well during the absence of the seniors. Aberrant errors, such as the simple case of including/calling A Mithun for a test match in the West Indies and not considering him as a replacement for the injured seamers during the tour of England, and ironically flying in RP Singh based on his 2007 series reputation need to be avoided.

Fortunately, the ideas for the platform have already been laid during the tenure of Gary Kirsten. Kirsten’s success as Indian coach is mainly attributed to his understanding of the Indian culture – one in which sensitivities played a very important role. Kirsten also saw the unprecedented need for psychological counseling for players who survived horrific spells of inconsistency/lack of form in the middle – for, the dynamics of the game had changed to such a great extent that the pool of players to choose from became so large, whereas the time a player got to showcase his potential was a matter of a few games.

Virat Kohli, with his rapidly rising run tally and maturity, with an extended run in Test Cricket can become a fulcrum of the Next Gen Middle Order

The case discussed earlier could’ve also dented the confidence of RP Singh, who’d have probably been more surprised than anyone else on his call-up, given the fact that he hadn’t played a first class game since January. Such cases, with a hint of a double-edged swordness about them, have buried the careers of a number of talented cricketers who have been victims of poor decision making.

What Indian cricket needs to build on requires the skill of a movie director – role play. Harsha Bhogle had spoken on this earlier, and if it wasn’t evident back then, it is evident right now. If this approach isn’t taken downstream, the absence of the cusp would mandate an explanation. This is very unlikely to materialize during the build up to the Australian tour, given the fact that all the senior players would play a role in the starting XI – given that this might be their last series down under.

But if the names don’t change, at least the structure can. Back the quickies and give the younger batsmen an extended run. Most crucially, eliminate the bottlenecks. Now that is where the trouble begins.