Gary Kirsten has played against Sachin and then been his coach through to the pinnacle of his career—the 2011 World Cup. But the ex-SA opener has rarely shared his thoughts on Sachin, what he thinks about the man and the cricketer and what his enduring legacy would be. Here’s Kirsten in a freewheeling conversation with Boria Majumdar:
You have seen Sachin as an opposition player and was subsequently his coach. Two very different experiences, can you tell us a bit more about it?
I have always found Sachin to be a thoroughly decent person. He is a humble man considering his cricket status around the world. He is cricket’s greatest role model and continues to provide a great example for young aspiring cricketers on how to conduct oneself throughout one’s career. Although I got to know him better when I was with the Indian team, my views have never changed.
You were instrumental in turning things around for Indian cricket; Sachin was key to this. How was he in the dressing room. How do you rate his contribution?
I felt he had a fantastic presence in the dressing room without having to say too much. I used to really enjoy watching him have conversations with the young players on how to deal with match situations. In the time I was with the team, I always felt he had a strong desire for the team to do well, regardless of his own personal success.
What distinguishes Sachin as a player...how do you explain his longevity and consistency over the last two-and-a-half decades?
He has always had a burning desire to score big in every innings. He’s never taken one innings he played lightly. Whilst many players compromise a little after some success, Sachin becomes more ruthless, prepares even harder for the next game. I really enjoyed watching his “attention to detail” during preparation time.
Can you describe the World Cup journey together, and the feeling after winning the cup?
It was a “mission accomplished” for all of us. Personally, it was the culmination of three very enjoyable years with the Indian team. The players stuck together through thick and thin and nobody was able to break up what we had created in our team environment. Sachin, as one of the senior players, was a vital cog in things running smoothly. Although he did not talk often in our team meetings, when he did, you could hear a pin drop. I really got a sense the players wanted to achieve something special for someone who has represented India impeccably over two decades.
What do you think is Sachin’s most enduring legacy...how will he go down in history as a player?
A difficult question as there is much to talk about. The thing that means the most to me is his absolute ‘love affair’ with the game of cricket. I have never met another person who enjoys the game more.
What do you think explains his ability to soak in the pressure and deliver time and again?
I don’t think anyone can truly understand how he’s been able to continually perform with so much expectation.
The series against South Africa may well be his last. Do you think he still has the ability to deliver in South African conditions, and against your bowling line-up?
That is an unfair question. All I will say is that he knows how to score anywhere in the world.
Finally, what is the one memorable Gary Kirsten story of Sachin Tendulkar?
I loved spending time in the nets with Sachin. His desire to continue asking questions and learn about his game will long live with me. However, the evening his wife Anjali came up to me to say thank you for everything I had done will remain a highlight of my coaching career.