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It was something of a forced chuckle from Gary Kirsten. He was taking time to ponder a question about comparisons between himself and the man who will be his direct opponent in the coming months.
They no longer participate in the skirmishes on the field but Kirsten and Andy Flower have made a significant impact in their role as coaches.
Kirsten hasn’t had enough time with South Africa to properly measure his influence. Look more at what he did with India to understand how he coaches and gets the players to perform.
It’s very much a “treat them like adults” exercise. He consults broadly with the players, getting their input on the number of practice matches they want.
The Indians, for instance, didn’t have to practice if they felt they didn’t want to and as Kirsten mentioned last week many of them – Rahul Dravid being a noteworthy exception – didn’t like too many warm-up games.
A line Kirsten has used often in recent weeks when asked about South Africa playing just two warm-up games before the Test series in England, reflects his own thinking on tour matches. “I always felt I only had so many good innings’ in me and I definitely didn’t want to waste them on a warm-up game,” he quipped.
Flower appears to be more of a general, who certainly doesn’t suffer fools gladly. “Flower and Andrew Strauss have created a very well-drilled outfit,” was how Graeme Smith described the England team, and that disciplined outlook is mainly down to the former Zimbabwe wicketkeeper who averaged 51.54 in 63 Tests.
Just witness his handling of Kevin Pietersen’s decision to stop playing One-Day Internationals – there was no hint from Flower about trying to placate England’s most dynamic batsmen and allow him to only play the T20 format.
Kirsten has already shown he’s happy to make calls that initially don’t please the public. There were certainly a lot of raised eyebrows about Vernon Philander’s inclusion in the Test squad for the Australia series last season. It was Kirsten who insisted on his inclusion, much to the surprise of the rest of the selection panel. And we all know how that move turned out.
Kirsten was loath to say if any of Flower’s structures in the England set-up would work with South Africa. While Australia have been happy to admit they want to mimic the England set-up, Kirsten insists he’ll do things his own way. “We are a different cricket team and we are different coaches,” Kirsten remarked.
“I certainly try and set things up differently to him. We are fairly good friends. We are in contact a little bit. I respect the way he goes about his business. I played cricket against him so I understand his thinking and his ways. We’ve got some different thoughts on things but he’s had incredible success with England and he’s got a good head on his shoulders in terms of what he wants to do.”
Having thrived in the cauldron that is Indian cricket, you might say Kirsten has “a good head on his shoulders” too.
Certainly his relaxed nature was something the Indian players appreciated and the success they had across all formats is indicative of how well Kirsten was able to coax such quality performances out of them.
With South Africa his approach may well be different.
Where Mahendra Singh Dhoni was a dominant figure as captain, Kirsten will be presiding over a transition with the South Africa captaincy, with Smith expected to hand over the Test reins to AB de Villiers next year.
Kirsten and Flower will both play an influential role in the tactical strategies for an unfortunately short Test series. As a coaching duo, they’re both fortunate that their respective captains have at their disposal two of the finest attacks in the game at present.
Typically they’ll deflect attention from themselves on to the players, but while quiet operators publicly, behind the scenes, it will be intriguing to see how they set up their teams.
Kirsten’s final words on Flower hinted at the competitive edge that will lurk behind the scene. “I wish him well in his coaching career … except in the next few months,” declared the SA coach. – The Star