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SOUTH AFRICAN FACTOR

Gary Kirsten, a misfit back home?

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THE WARD, THE COACH: Gary Kirsten (above and left) is chaired by ecstatic Indian players Suresh Raina and Virat Kohli during India's lap of honour in Mumbai last week. The left-hander owes his skills to South Africa's demanding cricketing ethos

The South African factor in India's World Cup win coach Gary Kirsten has given his country something to shout about. After three luckless World Cups as a player, the tough-as-teak 43-year-old returned home to Cape Town with a bag full of offers, but the super coach isn't committing or making decisions just yet. Champions enjoy the luxury of time not afforded to every one.

Kirsten, who signed on to coach India in December 2007, won the respect and appreciation of his players with his gentle manner. Noted for his man-management skills and the ability to keep India's superstars together as was obvious in the World Cup, the South African received the thumbs-up from back home.

Prior to the World Cup, Professor Tim Noakes had an express wish. The 61-year-old, a South African, whose area of expertise is exercise and sports science, hoped India would win the 2011 World Cup. Noakes said, "I wanted India to win because it would be good for Kirsten. It would be great. "

The amiable professor, irritated and frustrated with his country's cricket set-up, stepped out of the crease to say, they had 'institutionalised mediocrity'. Noakes, who co-authored Bob Woolmer's Art and Science of Cricket, and was the South African team's medical officer for the 1996 World Cup, added, "There's a bureaucracy here that doesn't understand what it takes to win. The top management structures are not geared to doing what is needed to win the World Cup. The focus is more on what can the game do for me. "

Noakes, who has run more than 70 marathons and ultramarathons, knows a thing or two about when to step up the pace to stay in the race. He said his country's cricket system was designed to be mediocre. The powers that be feel threatened by quality because of which there's no place for good men in the set-up. Noakes stated, "We virtually excommunicated Woolmer. If he was still with us, we'd have won the World Cup. We did the same with Kirsten, nobody here wanted him back then. Every once in a while, despite the system, we get a great cricketer and then we kick him out. "

Noakes argued that the South African team has still not learned that what it thinks needs to be done to win the World Cup is not enough. "Are we prepared to do what it takes? So far, the answer is, no, " he said.

Noakes explained, "Cricket is not a very competitive sport. There are only four or five top teams. That's why South Africa has managed to get by even by being mediocre. They wouldn't have got away with this in a more competitive field, like say football. When you aim for perfection, the focus is on excellence. Mediocrity leads one to complacency. "

Noakes, who was in the South African dressing room when they bowed out to the West Indies in the '96 World Cup in Karachi, falling short by 19 runs, said the team's exit from the 2011 event was not very different from the loss of 15 years ago.

"In 1996, we choked against the West Indies in Karachi. That was the first time, " he said, "We went down against some very mediocre bowling. The same thing happened against New Zealand. When you are the top team, you call the shots. You say how the game is going to be played. That's how matches are won. "

Noakes stressed that by failing to embrace science Cricket South Africa had reduced their chances of success. He added that it was 'unfortunate' the Proteas' batsmen weren't competent against spin bowling in the sub-continent. He finished by saying, "Someone should have done something, but everyone thought we'd be ok. Being 'ok' is not perfection. At the end of the day, players can only do what they're trained to do. "

Reader's opinion (1)

Ganesh HegdeApr 24th, 2011 at 08:59 AM

SA have always been mediocre in ICC tournaments.Their rigidity is startling and persisting with Smith as an opener has cost them big time.AB should open the batting to add more steel in the opening overs.

 
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