Hyderabad: Former India coach Gary Kirsten always had the belief that the immensely talented Virat Kohli will grow into a "great cricketer" and the South African considers himself fortunate to have been a part of that process.
"I always had a different kind of feeling when I started working with Virat Kohli. From the beginning, I was very sure that he was a rare talent and would become a great player. He grew massively in these past few years and has matured a lot. I was fortunate to be part of that process of seeing him grow and that give me immense pleasure," said Kirsten.
Kirsten was on Tuesday appointed chief coach of the Delhi Daredevils for the seventh season of the Indian Premier League.
Asked whether Kohli be able to step into Sachin Tendulkar's shoes once the legend calls time on his illustrious career spanning close to two and a half decades, Kirsten was very cautious about his choice of words. (Has Sachin's retirement become a national debate?)
"I have always been very careful about appointing someone in that place (Tendulkar's replacement). It's a very dangerous position and very risky to name anyone. That's something that you guys (media) do but I won't do that.
"All I can say is that Kohli is a fantastic batsman whom the opposition bowlers are finding it difficult to get out. The teams nowadays do a lot of planning to get him out," he said.
Not many people know that India's latest batting sensation Shikhar Dhawan made his international debut ( ODI) in 2010 when Kirsten was the coach and the former South African opener is impressed with Dhawan's "self belief".
"Unlike Kohli, I haven't seen much of Dhawan but what I have gathered over time after some interactions with him is that he has massive amount of self belief in his abilities which is very refreshing," he observed.
Kirsten was effusive in his praise for current coach Duncan Fletcher and said the Zimbabwean's coaching philosophy and situation was quite different from his.
"You have to understand one thing. The team that I worked with was revolving around players who were nearing retirement while Duncan came in when the team saw influx of a lot of youngsters. So ideally, you can't really compare my situation with him.
"Coaching a team with a lot of seniors requires different skill set and coaching philosophy from what one needs to coach a younger side. From what I have seen, Duncan has done a fabulous job with this current crop of young Indian players. He is in fact very good with youngsters and he has proved that again by giving them a lot of chance.
"This is one quality of Duncan which I realized when I was a young cricketer eager to make a mark. He (Fletcher) was my coach and I learnt a lot from him. Also I was fortunate to have a captain like MS ( Dhoni), who grew in stature as a leader. He has been an incredible leader of men," Kirsten explained.
When the India 'A' team was recently playing in Pretoria, Kirsten dropped in during one of the matches to catch up with his old wards like Rohit Sharma, Suresh Raina and Cheteshwar Pujara. (Three-Test series vs South Africa is ideal: Kirsten to NDTV)
"Actually, I haven't been in touch with most of the boys, so this India A tour gave me an opportunity to renew old ties. It was nice catching up with some of the boys, who played under me as the bonding is still strong. I have had wonderful three years as India coach and largely because these boys made me comfortable. Now I am coming back in a different role --- as a coach of the franchise side. It will be nice to again come in touch with all these boys," the 45-year-old fondly recollected.