GURU GARY – The Great Backstage Artist

It was in the early matches of 1996 World Cup when the name of Gary Kirsten caught up with the world for the first time. He was earlier a left handed opener for South African side under Hansie Cronje and was believed to be a specialist in the position. But it was that innings of 188 not out against United Arab Emirates on a sunny February day in 1996 which made the cricketing fraternity to sit up and watch.

He was a typical test player in every aspect. His run scoring was at the pace suited to Test Cricket and in ODIs he played some attractive shots while still relying on the traditional moments. Infact there are still people like Andy Zaltzman who consider him to be a candidate for slow batting.

He followed the footsteps of his brother Peter Kirsten into the South African side in mid 1990s but soon established himself to be one of the fore runners in the side. Those days when Cricket was still a game of passion and bowling was still a threat, Gary made runs with a natural flair and his technique was water tight and defense solid.

He scored his runs without fuss and ended up among the best South African batters while at helm. His retirement was a blow to the South African side but they admirably coped up with it through the emergence of Greame Smith.

After few years of ignominy, his return to the headlines was when he accepted one of the toughest jobs in Cricket. To coach the Indian Cricket team is a thankless job and above all he had to cope up with the egos of some names as big as the game itself.


It is here that Kirsten’s other face was seen. After a period of honeymoon under John Wright, Team India was slowly entering a phase of pretransition. He was blessed with the side that includes some of the biggest name in the game such as Tendulkar, Kumble, Dravid, Laxman and Dhoni. However unlikr his predecessor Greg Chappell, Gary was a different man and the results showed.

He improved the dressing room environment in Team India. With the reputation at stake, the side transformed itself from being Tigers at home to world beaters. He brought an essence of solidarity in the minds of the players and made them believe.’

While men like Tendulkar or Dravid or Laxman requires no coaches to sort out their batting woes, they did need a facilitator who could make them realize their roles in the side and work towards the betterment of the team. It is this role that Greg failed miserably. And it is this role that Gary performed admirably.

He made MS Dhoni to bring out his best in his own unorthodox methods. He made Gautham Gambhir and Virender Sehwag shed their ego and blend with the side. He made the best years of Tendulkar and Dravid and allowed Laxman to prosper in his role of being a talisman.

Zaheer Khan performed to his potential or even beyond under Gary. The bowling front responded to the coach and results were prudent. With a heavy batting line up Indian manage to hold the ace for 18 months.

The real value of Gary could be known from the fact that Sehwag said in an interview ahead of the World Cup finals that “We imagined being in this situation for the whole year”. The things were meticulously planned and neatly executed.

The contribution of Paddy Upton, Kirsten’s long term friend who was roped in as the mental conditioning coach cannot be understated. But the basic magic lied in the man who held the reins. He was able to manage the BCCI and its bosses and Team India with its stars and bring them in one line.

After returning home with a World Cup under his belt, Gary took over the reins of South Africa team. The side had its own troubles different from his previous innings. While the Proteas side was never left in want of match winners in any discipline, the side lacked the major factor of self belief.

They somehow managed to fail at the last step and that has been the story of their Cricket since readmission. But Guru Gary made his presence imagesin this very factor. Earlier South African side managed to reach the zenith, they seldom were able to stay there and lost the following match or series. They remained bridesmaid for years.

After Gary took over, he managed to make them believe in themselves. He brought back his comrade Allan Donald as bowling coach and Jonty Rhodes as fielding coach and managed to make the chokers to become champions.

Now as he has announced his retirement from the position, let us look upon him as a man who managed to create magic with two totally contrasting systems and take them to the top. He may not have the cricketing brain of John Buchannan or the tactical acumen of Mike Arthur or the work ethic of Andy Flower. Yet he remained a man in the backstage and managed his wards to rule the world.  Simple yet powerful message was sent to the cricket world. His story is a lesson in Sports management. Hats off Guru Gary!!!

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Dr.Arvind Subramanian is a Dental Surgeon from Chennai, India. A native of Thanjavur, Tamil Nadu he, like most other youngsters of India, he is a fanatic fan of Tendulkar and a hardcore Cricket buff. He has a great interest for Writing and writes on various subjects from Medicine to Arts and Culture to Cricket. He is also a good classical dancer and performs on various Sabhas and Art Centres often and is also an orator He is about to pursue his higher studies in his field. You can find him in Facebook here:


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