Getting to know the Kirsten way
THERE are many ways to coach cricket. There is the "do as I say" method, which usually fails. There is the "let the senior players run the show" style, which has been known to work to a certain degree.
There is the "leave them alone and they will figure it out" approach, which has been successful with some teams like Pakistan. Then there is the Gary Kirsten way.
Dismissed for being too nonchalant by many, including this writer, and frowned on for its flippancy, it seems to borrow from all those management techniques.
So far, this is the way that has worked.
Analysing it seems pointless because there is no "exact science", as Kirsten himself would say, that explains how it operates.
But let's try. Kirsten's tenure started with shrugging off an ODI series defeat to Australia, another defeat in Durban (although that was part of a test series) and an ODI series win over Sri Lanka, which was talked down as just a step in a process.
It was followed by massive success in all three formats in New Zealand, a tour that included the mysterious sending the bowling coach back home before the final test. That was also just a step.
Presumably the stairway was being built to England, though it took a detour via Zimbabwe. Losing to the lowly neighbours in a 20-over tournament was also dismissed as no big deal and focus quickly shifted to a four-day Alpine adventure in Switzerland.
The excursion formed the central vein of preparation to contest for the world No1 test ranking and was laughed off as an exercise in holidaying. After South Africa's win at the Oval, they were the only ones laughing.
The only thing that drew more giggles was the fancy dress party that was organised on arrival in Leeds on Sunday.
Jacques Kallis in a hot dog costume and JP Duminy in a nurse's outfit were the headline acts.
If South Africa win the second test at Headingley, maybe MS Dhoni will dress up as a cartoon character before India's next test to see if it works for him too.
Readers of self-help publications may recognise the "Kirsten way" as something resembling a work-life balance. Instead of nets after nets after nets, he has introduced other activities to break the monotony that comes with being on the road.
Importantly, when the time for those nets comes, they are taken as seriously as though they are matches. Every member of the squad has spoken about an increased sense of responsibility.
Pair that with the freedom to train, as Duminy said, "in the way we feel most comfortable", and you have some understanding of the "Kirsten way".
Whether this way took India to the top of the world we may never know, because their cricket culture is celebrity-driven.
But, by this time next week, we will know whether this is the way through which South Africa will reach the summit.