Time to think 'out of the Kirsten box'
There are many ways in which the brief Kirsten era can be remembered. On the field, it will undoubtedly be the rise of the test team to an unprecedented lead at the top of the ICC rankings, and a Champions Trophy would make a fitting end.
Off the field, it was his willingness to think “out of the box” which made him different. He had the courage of his convictions and was repeatedly brave enough to challenge even some of the most accepted conventions.
A ‘fluid’ middle order in which batsmen rotated roles in order to keep their ideas, approaches and perspectives fresh in the ODI game. Handing over the reigns of the T20 side to do a similar thing for both coaches and players. Time off in between test matches on tour and voluntary practice sessions before big games. Players encouraged to work out what preparation methods worked best for them, and then to implement them.
Everything he did and said was designed to keep mental energy levels as high as possible – most notably spending quality time with families and loved ones. The one aspect of his playing career he regretted was feeling "stale" – and not being able to do anything about it.
He has not, by the way, "resigned". He signed a two-year contract with an option for another two years which would have taken him to the 2015 World Cup in Australasia. He has chosen not to take up the extension. Anybody with a young family will appreciate how difficult it is to spend a week from them, let alone six months a year. That is, unarguably, the main reason he has decided to step aside.
There have been times during the last 18 months when other "stresses" have appeared to wear him down. He is a "players' coach" rather than a "committee coach" and being answerable to administrators on a host of issues beyond mere results was undoubtedly a burden he could have done without. But he knew the score before he signed and it was, he thought, a price he could pay.
So where to from here? A new head coach? Same system, same approach…? That’s probably the way CSA will go. Unless, that is, they have consulted (or plan to consult) Kirsten for his views on the way forward.
Is a permanent "cricket coach" the best move? Is it necessary? What are the players’ greatest needs? Undoubtedly their physical requirements are crucial, and there is a brilliant team taking care of that aspect for them, from team manager and doctor, Mohammad Moosajee, to Rob Walter, Brandon Jackson and Riaan Muller. All world class. Allan Donald is making strides with every tour as a bowling coach who commands respect and is able to both empathise and impart practical advice. But he, too, has a family.
Paddy Upton was appointed "Perfomance Manager" a little under a year ago and may now be in a position utilise that title properly by overseeing the national squads from both close and afar. A team of consultant coaches (including Kirsten) could be organised and managed to provide a healthy mixture of freshness and continuity. The Kirsten "method" of empowering players to be proactive in taking responsibility for their own careers can not only be continued, but expanded.
Every member of the national squads, from the most senior and experienced to the recent debutants, understood and adopted the Kirsten philosophy. It would be a shame to ditch it all now just because he’ll no longer be fulltime at the helm in a couple of months' time.
I’m sure Manchester United won’t be abandoning the Ferguson Philosophy when David Moyes takes over.