In the eyes of many, the only difference between the Indian team that won the World Cup and the one that is getting hammered in Australia is Gary Kirsten.
They say, the South African knew how to take care of the seniors, he knew how to listen to them, how to train the juniors and keep peace in the dressing room. He had grasped what it takes to get work done in the Indian system and it worked. The run of results was testament to the success of his methods.
So when he decided to quit just after the team won the World Cup to spend time with his family, most people were surprised that the BCCI hadn’t managed to make him stay. The Board did the next best thing: it appointed the man Kirsten recommended – Duncan Fletcher — to take over.
Fletcher, an astute coach, is known as the man who turned around England’s fortunes. But for India, he was pretty much expected to continue Kirsten’s good work.
Instead, India’s losing spree abroad has meant that just 10 months into his new assignment, questions about Fletcher’s future already abound. But if Kirsten’s right-hand man, mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton, is to be believed – this slide was coming no matter who the coach was.
“This was bound to happen. With Fletcher, it’s been a bit of a nosedive. It might have been a little slower with Gary but there was no stopping it,” said Upton, who was in Mumbai on his way back home after Sahara’s Pune Warriors pulled out of the IPL. “It’s tough to say that Fletcher has done anything wrong. And you can be sure he is trying but to no avail.”
“Imagine winning the World Cup and then having to play the IPL four days later. You need some time to unwind to reassess your goals. You need to just do nothing for a while. The last thing you want to do is get into another tournament. The win needs to sink in,” said Upton.
Under Kirsten, one of the first things the team did was to set its goals – to be number one in Tests and win the ODI World Cup. But these were not solely Kirsten’s goals. These targets mattered to the entire team and that is why they were trying so hard to get there.
“We used to have sessions with the explorer-adventurer Mike Horn (they had one just before the World Cup too) and he used to tell us even in mountaineering 73 percent of the fatalities occurred on the way back down the mountain, either after climbers reached the peak or after they aborted their attempt on the summit and turned back.
“Now why do you think that happens?”
The logical explanation being that once they’ve achieved their primary goals, there is a sense of emptiness.
“It takes time to rediscover what you want to do again and maybe the Indian team just hasn’t had that time. They have been playing almost non-stop,” said Upton.
Maybe that is why Kirsten decided to leave the Indian team. He saw the fall coming and he also saw that the BCCI was doing little to stop it.
“No coach would have made a difference because the players are the ones who win matches. They are equal participants in this. Right now, India needs its players to find their purpose once again.”
Even then, it will hardly be easy. But at least it will be a start.