Speaking on the Following On Cricket Podcast, Gary Kirsten opened up on his interview to be England head coach, a position which was filled by Chris Silverwood after the departure of Trevor Bayliss at the end of the 2019 season.
Kirsten was originally the favourite to be offered the position. He is rated as one of the best coaches around, having taken both India and South Africa to No.1 in the Test rankings, with the former also winning the 2011 World Cup under his stewardship. Having not fulfilled a national coaching position since 2013, his mooted appointment was viewed as something of a coup for the ECB, and Kirsten himself says he viewed the process as a “token interview”.
“It was a very weird process,” he said. “I couldn’t get my head round this England job. You know, it’s very prestigious to be offered a job of that nature. When I left the shores of South Africa, I kind of had in my head that ‘I’m going for a token interview, they actually want to give me the job’. But then in the interview I was really honest. I presented what I saw from the outside and said, ‘It’s very difficult to give you a vision without knowing the team or knowing the players, but this is what I see from the outside and how I could potentially add value’.
“I thought the interview went really well in terms of my honesty in the situation and what I felt I could add. And then Ashley phoned me the next day and we had another chat, and that was it. And then they gave Chris the job.”
The family commitments which have kept Kirsten out of the limelight since 2013 were put forward by some as reasons for Silverwood to be offered the job over him, but the South African feels that he could have negotiated the challenges it posed.
“I discussed it with Debs, my wife, a lot and we said ‘Well hold on we’ve been out of this space for five years, six years, and it is a tough journey as an international coach’. But then we kind of justified it by saying ‘Well our kids are older now, maybe it will be a great opportunity for our middle son James to move into high school there,’ so there were a lot of things we thought about and justified that it would be worth going to.
“I told them ‘there are a couple of challenges with my family and we’re going to have to navigate that and work it out’. I’ve always been an advocate as a coach for having different coaches for different formats, only because I think coaches are under the pump with their families, because coaches are much younger these days. It’s not easy to navigate through these long international seasons. Obviously the England set up wanted me to do the whole lot and then to buy me some periods of time when I could go home and be with my family, so I thought ‘maybe we can go down that road’.”
Kirsten now feels the ECB were actually leaning towards Silverwood the whole time, and supported the latter’s appointment, with England achieving a notable 3-1 Test series win in South Africa early in his tenure.
“Chris was a very strong candidate as well, that’s why it was the two of us,” he said. “I didn’t realise that they were thinking of him very seriously so I actually think it was the other way. I think they wanted Chris to do the job but if I arrived and I was convincing enough they might have offered it to me. But I was thinking they were going to offer me the job. It’s not a bad thing that I didn’t get the job anyway. It’s always nice to be offered it but Chris is well suited to the role and he seems to be doing a great job with the team now.”