'Team could be one of India's greatest' - Kirsten
Gary Kirsten, India's coach, believes that if his Test side can win the series in South Africa, they could be regarded as one of India's greatest Test teams. In an extensive interview with ESPNcricinfo, Kirsten said it would be great to win in South Africa, but that the side didn't need to prove anything.
"We don't need to justify it to anyone," Kirsten said. "The performances speak loud: 23 Tests, two losses, 12 wins. When you look at the performances of the five top-ranked Test teams over the two years, you know why India are at the top.
"But to remain the top-ranked team, we need to continue performing. If we do win in South Africa, then you can start talking about one of the greatest Test teams India have ever produced."
Kirsten, a former South Africa opener, knows it is not going to be easy. "South Africa are very tough to beat at home as India are to beat in India," he said. "The wickets really suit the pace bowlers."
He dismissed suggestions that India's batsmen are susceptible to short bowling, though. "It is all about players hitting form at the right time. I certainly don't think that any opposition can use that as an out-and-out strategy to undo the Indian Test batting line-up. There is too much experience in this team now.
"Also the Indian fast bowlers are good themselves on helpful wickets - Sreesanth, Ishant [Sharma] and Zak [Zaheer Khan] are a good bowling attack... This Test series will be a defining moment for us."
Be that as it may, followers of Indian cricket have been living in trepidation about the team's possible fortunes once the big three in the middle order retire. Kirsten, though, said that none of them has spoken to him of retirement. He said that when Rahul Dravid, VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar decide to call it a day, it is bound to be a big blow, but India will do well if they make sure the farewells are not too close together.
"There is no inclination of any of them retiring," Kirsten said. "And I always ask them. They are certainly not in any rush. Look, if Rahul Dravid decides to retire, it is a major blow. Just like when [somebody like] Jacques Kallis decides to retire, it is a major blow for any team.
"There are enough young guys there but it will take them few years. There might be a rebuilding phase in India in two years' time."
Kirsten sounded hopeful of India's future after the big three. "There are some really good young players," he said. "You will have [Virender] Sehwag, [Gautam] Gambhir, [MS] Dhoni, [Suresh] Raina, along with the likes of [Murali] Vijay and [Cheteshwar] Pujara and others. Yes, you might miss out on a Laxman batting in a crucial situation to win you a game - that experience - but someone like Suresh Raina has done it plenty of times in one-dayers, so there is no reason why he can't transfer that into the Test match arena."
More than the retirements, which is a natural transition, Kirsten was concerned with the side's injury management, especially outside the squad on national duty. "I think it is important that we continue to monitor players when they get injured. Maybe a physical conditioning co-ordinator between the NCA and the team, who operates as a link, could be a good idea in the future. In this way the players will have a programme set up for their rehabilitation rather than them making the decision to go to the NCA. It is difficult for the team management to monitor players whilst on the road - our focus is always on preparing the players for the next game.
"With Anil Kumble's appointment [as director of the NCA], I'm looking forward to creating some dialogue around this to work out the most effective system."
Read part one of the interview here