Gary Kirsten, speaking on talkSport’s Following On podcast, recalled the “bizarre” series of events that led to him being selected as India’s head coach in 2007, a process that concluded with him being offered his predecessor Greg Chappell’s contract.
Kirsten, who coached the Indian team to the top of the Test rankings in 2009, and to the World Cup title two years later, hadn’t even applied for the job when he received a surprise invitation from Sunil Gavaskar, part of the coaching selection committee, to consider the role.
“I’ve got an email from Sunil Gavaskar – would I consider coaching the Indian team,” Kirsten said. “I thought it was a hoax. I never even answer it. He sent me another email, and said, ‘Will you come for an interview?’. I showed it to the wife, and she said, ‘They must have the wrong person’. So it was a bizarre entry into the whole thing, and rightly so. I mean, I had no coaching experience or anything.
“Anyway, I went for the interview, it was a bizarre experience in many ways because I kinda arrived at the interview and I see Anil Kumble, who’s the current Indian captain, and he says, ‘What are you doing here?’. I said, ‘I have come for an interview to coach you!’. So we kinda laugh about it. It was quite a laughing matter.
“Ten minutes later, I am in this board meeting with these BCCI officials, and it was quite an intimidating environment; the secretary of the board said, ‘Mr. Kirsten, would you like to present your vision for the future of Indian Cricket?’, and I said, ‘Well, I don’t have one.’ No one had asked me to prepare anything for it. I had just arrived there.
Ravi Shastri, who was on the committee, said to me, ‘Gary, tell us, what did you guys as the South African team do to beat the Indians?’. I thought it was a great ice-breaker, because I could answer it and I answered it in about two-three minutes without saying strategies that we kind of probably use to this day.
“He was suitably impressed, as was the rest of the board, because three minutes later – I had been in in the interview about seven minutes – the secretary of the board slides across a contract to me. [I] pick up the contract, and the first page, I am looking for my name frantically, and I can’t see my name, but I see Greg Chappell’s name, who was the previous coach.
“So I slide the contract back and I say, ‘Sir, I think you have given me your previous coach’s contract. He kind of looks at it a little bit perturbed, and takes out a pen from his pocket, scratches out his [Chappell] name and writes my name on it.
“Then slides the contract back. So now I have my name on the contract. The beautiful thing about that was I didn’t have a clue what I should be paid. But then, obviously, with Chappell’s package there, I thought, ‘Well, let me just keep it the same!’ I am happy with what he was getting paid. That was it.’
Kirsten, who was initially offered a two-year role, received a contract extension in 2010 until the World Cup the subsequent year, his last gig for India, after which he went on to coach the South African team.