Clem Sunter

Arise Sir Gary

2011-04-08 12:05

It is appropriate to write an article in praise of Gary Kirsten, now that he is back in Cape Town relaxing with his family.

If he had been British, he would have received a Knighthood for his services to cricket. Alf Ramsey got one as England manager for winning the Soccer World Cup in 1966. Alex Ferguson has got one for being the most successful Premier League manager of modern times. Yet Gary in his accomplishments as manager of the Indian cricket team has surpassed one of them and rivalled the other.

He has overtaken Ramsey in that he has coached a team of another country and another culture to become the best in the world. In India, the top of the animal hierarchy is the elephant - not the lion - because elephants are caring beasts. He has emulated Ferguson because Manchester United has only won the treble - the Premier League, the FA Cup and the Champions League - in the 1999 season.

To his credit, Gary as leader of the support staff has helped the Indian cricket team to achieve the near equivalent of the treble of soccer and the grand slam of tennis and golf. India are now the No 1 ranked test team in the world, they are world champions in the one-day format and they are ranked second in the 20/20 format. People in South Africa simply do not appreciate what this means to the more than one billion Indians who inhabit this Earth. To them cricket is a religion and Gary has played a principal role in leading Dhoni and his side to the Holy Grail. You cannot do more than that. Lancelot and Sir Galahad would have been proud.

One of my close friends at school and university in England was Madhavrao Scindia who at the time was Maharaja of Gwalior. He cruelly died in 2001, but up until his death he was a cricket fanatic and even headed the Indian Cricket Board. He must have been applauding from heaven when Dhoni hit the six to win the one-day final last weekend.

I once travelled on a plane between Cape Town and George with Gary and he struck me as a genuinely nice, modest and quite shy individual. I have been told that the key to his success in coaching the Indian side is his ability, like Nelson Mandela, to lead from behind. In other words, you seldom lay down the law but rather strive for consensus in making strategic and tactical decisions. In practising this style, he obviously won the hearts of the stars like Tendulkar and Dhoni who have both lauded him to the skies and will miss him very much.

While I cannot give you the Knighthood, Gary, I can give you the title of my pocket of excellence for the month of April. I can only wish you all the best with whatever task you take on in the future. You were brilliant on the field, you have proved yourself off the field and now comes the hard bit – maintaining the momentum after reaching the summit.

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