India in SA
Comment: Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Kirsten’s SA stocks will soar
Cape Town – The planets look increasingly aligned for Gary Kirsten to take the reins next season as head coach of the Proteas.
Of course there have been no special noises yet by either Kirsten, who is almost certainly quitting his role with India after the World Cup, or Cricket South Africa to suggest that he is the man most firmly earmarked to fill the local void – which occurs when Corrie van Zyl steps down by own request in early April to return to High Performance Centre leadership in Pretoria.
But you would think CSA interest will only have been lifted by the 43-year-old’s achievement on Thursday in steering India to their first ever share of a Test series on these shores – they have only ever lost them previously.
Indeed, at one stage on day four of the final Test at Newlands it was South Africa, not the visitors, staring dangerously down the barrel of defeat in the tight series: the Proteas were a tenuous 128 runs to the good in their second innings with six wickets down, until injured Jacques Kallis sparked yet another of his formidable rescue acts.
Whether CSA are genuinely keen on Kirsten or not – and there seems no great reason why they should not be, unless money is somehow an impregnable barrier – the South African cricketing public are virtually certain to throw their own weight eagerly behind the appointment of one of their favourite playing sons.
While not forgetting England’s big statement of intent in Australia, India sit fairly compellingly at the top of the ICC Test rankings after their gritty showing here, and Kirsten has now proved his credentials beyond doubt in the transition from international batsman to top-flight coach.
South Africa remains his home in all the key ways, including his Cape Town-based wife and young children.
In rare opportunities for a break from the unmatched hurly-burly of the Indian cricket scene during his three-year tenure there, Kirsten could unfailingly be spotted back in his southern suburbs stomping grounds, perhaps socialising with valued friends, catching a Stormers or Western Province match, or pounding the pavements of leafy streets as he maintains fine levels of own fitness.
He is, in short, a Rondebosch- and UCT-educated, Cape Town “boykie”.
Money may talk, but it doesn’t always have to shout, and Kirsten is already bound to be extremely comfortable, as they say, after his stint on the Subcontinent.
Home turf will offer him the quality of life and serenity he probably desires after that claustrophobic yet stimulating adventure, while coaching a team he played for in 101 Tests and 185 ODIs must have some huge elements of appeal.
Just as his own rich, prior knowledge of what makes -- and doesn’t make -- the Proteas tick must have been of incredible benefit to India ahead of and during this Test tour, South Africa would surely benefit equivalently if Kirsten suddenly brought vital Indian intelligence to Graeme Smith’s team.
That Kirsten will be leaving his post has not yet been confirmed, but the emotional way again in which India’s captain MS Dhoni spoke at the after-match press conference on Thursday suggested rather strongly that the coach has overseen his last Test match for them.
“Let’s see what the future holds,” Dhoni said cagily and seemingly ruefully. “Every member of the squad loves him ... the last three years have been just brilliant.”
Meanwhile Smith also offered a pretty deft – for a big man – sidestep when asked whether he would support a Kirsten application.
“The way you guys have portrayed my (relations with) coaches ... I’ll leave that one out, I think! Look, obviously I’ve always respected Gary a lot.”
But the long-serving captain had also spoken a little earlier about the importance of the Proteas appointing someone “to push us further ahead ... someone who will come in with some fresh ideas”.
Smith effectively acknowledged that it hadn’t been all plain sailing in home series for three seasons, considering the 2-1 loss to Australia which undid the fabulous work Down Under, and then successive stalemates with England and now India: “We’ve been playing consistently at a certain level ...”
Applications supposedly close today (Friday) for candidates eyeing the Proteas job. It is hard to imagine that a file from Kirsten will not be among them.
“We will be casting our net very wide,” CSA chief executive Gerald Majola stated late last month. That may be true; there may just as feasibly be some element of red herring involved.
However many applicants there are –there is no special urgency to the deliberation process by the dedicated CSA panel because there is a long off-season for South Africa after the World Cup – I will be surprised if anyone else’s CV or battle-plan jumps out at them significantly more ...