First-time IPL coaches Gary Kirsten and Sanjay Bangar are in charge of Delhi Daredevils and Kings XI Punjab — teams that’ve done nothing of note since reaching the semifinals in the inaugural season. Kirsten returns to a country where he has only happy memories while Bangar, a first-time head coach, looks to create happy ones of his own.
The Gary Kirsten-Eric Simons partnership were hugely successful with Team India. Kirsten as head coach and Simons shepherding and moulding India’s temperamental pacers. The duo have re-united, this time to guide Delhi Daredevils in IPL 7. Their roles have altered though, with Simons, instrumental in bringing in his friend — widely considered to be the world’s best coach — into the IPL fold as they attempt to lift the capital side out of the wooden-spoon depths they plunged to last year. After the IPL auction in Bangalore, the duo spoke to Shamik Chakraborty.
Gary, what was your reaction when you got a call from the Daredevils? You had spoken about missing home when you left India. What did your wife and kids say as you were packing your bags again?
Kirsten: If you’ve seen any of the media around explaining why I didn’t renew my contract with the Proteas, it was on the back of international cricket which is very different to the IPL. The IPL is a two-month tournament. It’s a completely different space from my family’s perspective. You’re committing for two months for a tournament as opposed to the whole year.
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Gary, is returning to India for a second stint, a tad less stressful?
Kirsten: No, I’m looking forward to it. I think it’s going to be an interesting experience. I have very fond memories of my three years with the national team and it’s nice to be back. Cricket-wise I’m excited about the IPL because it’ll be a new experience for me. I’m learning a lot from guys within the Delhi set-up who have already been there and understand how it works.
How wiser are you about India and the Indian mindset this time? Will you tap into your past experience or is it better to start with a clean slate?
Kirsten: I’m not sure. I haven’t been with this sort of a team within a company, within a franchise, and it would be arrogant to think that I could have all the answers regarding the IPL. I’ve learnt a lot in the past in terms of how it operates.
You have Eric by your side once again, but will you miss Paddy Upton?
Kirsten: Paddy’s a quality worker in his sphere. Anyone would miss him. We’ve got five years together and I’ve learnt a lot from him. It’s good to be joining Eric again. I enjoyed having him with us in the Indian team. It’s important to learn new things which is what I’m doing, coming into the IPL. It’s nice that I’ve got a good friend who’s helping me through the process. Otherwise I would be sitting in the dark.
Simons, what do you think about working with Gary?
Simons: I think relationships are very important in the cricketing sphere and my relationship with Gary has always been very good. I think designations are irrelevant in the sense of how it works. Gary is the head coach and he will take the big calls, and I’m there to support him. It’s how it functions. We don’t have an ego in this job and that is one of the reasons we work well together. (It) certainly puts things into perspective about who I want to work with. We complement each other well in terms of personality and thinking.
Paddy will be in the rival camp if he turns up for Rajasthan Royals. Or will he be joining Delhi Daredevils too?
Simons: I don’t think there’s any chance of him joining DD. Paddy’s had a very successful run with Royals. He’s an integral part of that organisation and I think that’s good for him. That’s where he has found a niche for himself. He has done very well. Obviously we will always have a great relationship.
Do you think your prior association with the Indian team and knowledge of players, many of whom would be leading opposition sides, could help you read their minds since you know their weakness and strengths so well?
Kirsten: No. We live in a world now where guys are playing with and against each other all the time. If you want any information on a player you can get it easily. We live in a dynamic environment in professional cricket. So there’s no added advantage here. Absolutely not.
Dhoni, Virat, Gambhir, Rohit Sharma — how do you think they’ve evolved as captains?
Kirsten: We’ll try to understand the opposition and prepare accordingly. It’s as simple as that. There’s no hidden secret there. We will do our best to prepare for each game, doesn’t matter who’s in the opposition. Every guy we will plan for and have an understanding for. And that’s it. As far as their batting and captaincy, yes I have been following them from a distance, but it won’t be right for me to make an assessment from this platform. I have very close relationships with all of them.
You once said, “I would go to war with Dhoni by my side”. Now you are slated to go to war against Dhoni with Kevin Pietersen by your side.
Kirsten: Things do change. Yes. KP has been an integral part of Delhi Daredevils for the last few years. He expressed a real interest to return. Once he was available full-time for the franchise and once we heard that, we got excited. We were prepared to invest in Kevin Pietersen because of the success he had with the franchise in the past.
Do you rate KP really high as a man manager and a cricketer and is that the reason you guys spent Rs 9 crore on him? What does he bring to the side?
Kirsten: – It’s fairly visible what he brings to the table. He’s a world-class player and a proven match-winner at the highest level.
Simons: If you’re asking me if a player like him needs an ego boost, I don’t think it’s an ego boost. Every player needs to feel that they’re a part of the family and very important to the team, and have got a role to play. And it’s not just words; it is about believing those words. That’s what man management is. There are different types of players. Massively explosive players, massively talented players but they don’t necessarily like the additional burden of captaincy.
And there are those who enjoy it. KP is a natural leader. Some people influence environments and some don’t. KP is someone who influences environments. He was the informal leader in IPL 5 and played a big role in our leadership structures. Team atmosphere should be such that every player finds his own space. That’s the key.
Do you think Pietersen is the most misunderstood cricketer in the history of the game?
I don’t know the answer to that, to be honest. I haven’t worked with him enough to know.
Gary, the Indian team enjoyed a flexible, relaxed regime in your coaching tenure and many believe a similar vibe will help KP blossom?
Kirsten: I don’t like the word coaching. It’s more about managing teams or managing environments and be more of a manager of people rather than a coach. And it’s about the whole team and not an individual. We will do what it takes to prepare these guys and the team as well.
Did you change your approach to coaching when you joined South Africa? Or do the basics stay common to all dressing-rooms?
Kirsten: My basic philosophy on leadership and creating the proper environment remains unchanged. But they’re different games, so obviously we have a different way of thinking within the team based on the type of game which you’re playing. The IPL is new to me. So I will lean a lot on Eric and the other guys just to understand what type of strategy we’ve used in the past. What has been good and what hasn’t been good. And we will certainly do a lot of work on that and will try to move it forward. But it is different coaching (in the IPL) in many ways.
Why didn’t you retain Sehwag?
Kirsten: It’s a decision which is not made only by me. It is made by a group of people who are part of our management team. Viru has been a fantastic player; I really enjoyed working with him in the Indian team. He had a lot of success at that time. But the Delhi franchise took the decision to move on. We were looking for a certain type of player and we were looking for players who fitted a certain role. We believe that was the best decision we could make to take the franchise forward in terms of performance. There can be a bit of emotion around. You don’t want to disappoint people, but at the end of the day, you are taking business decisions that you think are best for the franchise, and that’s how we did it.
Does the spot-fixing controversy in the IPL affect you?
Simons: I think Brendon McCullum was asked a similar question and his answer was perhaps the best — “We move to our play-stations…we just do our job.” Administrators take care of them (controversies). It’s a genuine answer that I can give. What happens, happens and we will find out.