Gary Kirsten, the former India coach, has admitted to being "a bit sad," after MS Dhoni's side lost their No. 1 Test ranking, following three consecutive Test defeats to England. However, Kirsten has warned that it is not yet time to panic and that the team he coached to the top of the world are still a formidable side.
"I am bit surprised with the results, but not in a negative way," Kirsten, who now coaches South Africa, told ESPNcricinfo in Johannesburg, where he was attending a sponsorship announcement. "It's always difficult to understand why teams ebb and flow and often it's the intangibles that make the difference."
While India's poor performances have been put down to everything from the lack of planning to lack of fight, Kirsten sees the reason for their losses as something less easily identifiable. He dished up a range of possible reasons, with the central theme being that of the culture of the side and how that may have to change with the change of coach. "When a new coach comes in its important that he follows on with the culture of the team," Kirsten said.
Kirsten established himself as a flexible, contemporary coach, who was capable of being involved with the players as well as letting them take care of themselves. More importantly, he was as hard-working as they needed to be, literally, showing them what it would take to be successful. Hailed for the umpteen throwdowns he provided, the players saw him as one of them. It's too early to tell whether they see new coach Duncan Fletcher in the same way, but even if they do, Kirsten admitted that the taking over the mantle, from any coach, is tough. "It's not easy to continue a run of success," he said.
One of the difficulties that may come with transition is understanding the make-up of the Indian team, particularly where it is deficient. "They are a great cricket team, with a great captain and one of the best batting line-ups in the world which is why they were No. 1," Kirsten explained, before saying something that indicated that he had not completely let go of the Indian team just yet. "But we always knew that we were bit short on the bowling side and that was something that we learnt to manage."
India's bowlers have bowed out of the series in sequence, making it tricky to stay consistent and threatening in that department. First senior fast bowler Zaheer Khan was injured, then the spin department was forced to turn another way when Harbhajan Singh had to leave and, before the start of the fourth and final Test, Praveen Kumar suffered an ankle injury.
And, while the bowling has lurched from one state of crisis to the next, the batting has failed to live up to expectations. With experiences hands like VVS Laxman and Sachin Tendulkar unable to score a century between them, there is concern that the best days of Indian batting are behind them, and fresh faces should be sought, but Kirsten doesn't agree.
"People said that with such an experienced team we should try to integrate youth but I felt that for as long as those experienced guys were there and they were enjoying it and playing good cricket, they should carry on," he said. "Even if it means that there is only one spot to bring in a youngster, that's fine. We were able to, at number six, so we covered both angles." Suresh Raina has been the man who has been allowed to fill and mature in that role and has also been earmarked as one for the future, by being the stand-in ODI captain.
It's in the shorter format of the game that Kirsten thinks India can redeem themselves on this tour, especially after their World Cup triumph. "I hope they have a good one-day series, because if they do, they can look back and say, 'ok, we had a disappointing Test series, but as World Cup winners we've shown our worth in the one-day game.'"
It will be a way for India to validate and sustain their status as one of the top teams in the world, something that new ODI captain AB de Villiers thinks is much more complicated than it looks. "It's difficult to reach the top and stay there," he said. "They won the World Cup, which was massive for them, but then they've had a tour of West Indies and a few injuries and maybe the hunger to win games goes down a little."