Former South Africa batting great Gary Kirsten has spoken about the ‘bizarre’ turn of events that led to him becoming the coach of Team India in 2008. Kirsten wrote his name in Indian cricketing folklore as he masterminded their historic World Cup victory at the iconic Wankhede Stadium in Mumbai in 2011.
The former South Africa opener spoke about an email sent from former India opener and then member of the coach selection committee Sunil Gavaskar, which had set the ball rolling.
“I’ve got an email from Sunil Gavaskar – would I consider coaching the Indian team,” Kirsten said during Cricket Collective podcast on Spotify.
“I thought it was a hoax. I never even answer it. He sent me another email, and said, ‘Will you come for an interview?’ I showed it to the wife, and she said, ‘They must have the wrong person’. So it was a bizarre entry into the whole thing, and rightly so. I mean, I had no coaching experience or anything.
“Anyway, I went for the interview, it was a bizarre experience in many ways because I kinda arrived at the interview and I see Anil Kumble, who’s the current Indian captain, and he says, ‘What are you doing here?’. I said, ‘I have come for an interview to coach you!’. So we kinda laugh about it. It was quite a laughing matter,” he added.
Kisten then revealed intriguing details of what panned out during the entire process. He also spoke about how ill-prepared he was for the interview as everything happened on such a short notice and how former India cricketer and then member of the committee Ravi Shastri came to his rescue.
“Ten minutes later, I am in this board meeting with these BCCI officials, and it was quite an intimidating environment; the secretary of the board said, ‘Mr. Kirsten, would you like to present your vision for the future of Indian cricket?’ and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ No one had asked me to prepare anything for it. I had just arrived there,” Kirsten revealed.
“Ravi Shastri, who was on the committee, said to me, ‘Gary, tell us, what did you guys as the South African team do to beat the Indians?’ I thought it was a great ice-breaker, because I could answer it and I answered it in about two-three minutes without saying strategies that we kind of probably use to this day.”
Kirsten then revealed another anecdote from the entire episode, that also involved Greg Chappell.
“He was suitably impressed, as was the rest of the board, because three minutes later – I had been in in the interview about seven minutes – the secretary of the board slides across a contract to me. (I) pick up the contract, and the first page, I am looking for my name frantically, and I can’t see my name, but I see Greg Chappell’s name, who was the previous coach,” he said.
“So I slide the contract back and I say, ‘Sir, I think you have given me your previous coach’s contract. He kind of looks at it a little bit perturbed, and takes out a pen from his pocket, scratches out his (Chappell) name and writes my name on it.
“Then slides the contract back. So now I have my name on the contract. The beautiful thing about that was I didn’t have a clue what I should be paid. But then, obviously, with Chappell’s package there, I thought, ‘Well, let me just keep it the same!’ I am happy with what he was getting paid. That was it.”
Kirsten was handed an initial two-year deal, from March 1, 2008. He was then handed over a one-year contract extension that saw him lead India to their second World Cup title. Under his stewardship, India also took over the numero uno spot in Tests in 2009.