New Kirsten to focus on test transition

Written by Reuters | Mumbai, February 27: | Updated: Feb 27 2008, 17:02pm hrs
India's new cricket coach Gary Kirsten believes overseeing a smooth change of guard in the test team represents the biggest challenge of his two-year tenure.

The former South Africa opening batsman, who succeeds Australian Greg Chappell to one of the world's most demanding coaching jobs, hopes to make the process easier by involving senior players in the planning of their retirements.

India have five ageing players in the test team with only 34-year-old batsman Sachin Tendulkar from that group still playing one-day cricket.

"I would like to see a smooth transition that, you know, in 18 months time we might have two new players in the test side that have come through on a succession planning basis," Kirsten told reporters on Tuesday after meeting cricket board officials.

"That is something that will have to be managed very carefully, obviously by myself being involved, as with a number of other people including the players themselves.

"So there will be a lot of planning around that, a lot of discussions with senior players in terms of when their time is up."

Insecure players

Leg-spinner and test captain Anil Kumble is 37 and former captains Saurav Ganguly and Rahul Dravid are both 35. Vangipurappu Laxman, who rounds off India's famed middle-order along with Tendulkar, is the youngest at 33.

Critics felt Chappell, who quit after the team's first round exit in the one-day World Cup last March, was abrasive in his bid to change the make-up of the team and made players insecure.

However, Kirsten, 40, who officially takes over on Saturday, said youngsters will not be rushed into test cricket despite a batch of exciting talent coming through the one-day arena.

"At the test level, one must always be careful, because it is a tough and uncompromising environment and you need your experience, maybe more so than one-day cricket," said Kirsten, who played over a 100 tests and one-dayers in the 90s.

In India, cricketers are feted like pop stars and their every move documented and debated by the numerous television channels.

Kirsten's first challenge as coach comes against his homeland when South Africa tour India for three tests starting next month.

He spent a few weeks with the team during the test tour of Australia, where India lost a controversial four-match series 2-1.

"I found them a very competitive unit, very determined. It is a good looking team with very bright prospects for the future."

India are second in the test rankings behind Australia.

"What I like about Indian cricket as a whole, and certainly with the younger players, is that they are ready to accept the battle.

"Unlike in the past, they are not backing off anymore," he said. "I think that's very healthy for the game."