JOHANNESBURG: Gary Kirsten, who led India to their 50-over World Cup triumph this year, has been appointed coach of his native South Africa, Cricket South Africa (CSA) announced on Monday.
The former opening batsman will formally take over in August ahead of the two home series against Australia and Sri Lanka, CSA said at a news conference.
Kirsten's highly successful three-year stint as Indian coach ended on April 2 when he steered them to their World Cup triumph. The Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) were quick to offer lucrative contract extensions which he turned down.
Kirsten, 43, will take over from former one-day international fast bowler Corrie van Zyl, who stood down after South Africa's disappointing quarter-final exit at the World Cup.
A left-handed batsman of fine technique and concentration, Kirsten played 101 tests and 185 one-day internationals for South Africa between 1993 and 2004.
“Obviously I'm delighted and I consider it a major honour and privilege to coach South Africa. After playing for the team for 11 years, it's great to be back with something that has been such a part of my life and back with my people,” he said.
Kirsten said he would bring in former fast bowling great Allan Donald and Eastern Cape Warriors franchise coach Russell Domingo to assist him.
Paddy Upton, who was the mental and conditioning coach when Kirsten was with India, would be used as a consultant, while Eric Simons is still working with the number one-ranked test side and limited-overs champions.
Donald pulled out of a job as New Zealand's full-time bowling coach to take up Kirsten's offer of an assistant's post.
“The call from Gary came out of the blue,” he said. “It took me half-a-second to say yes, it was extremely exciting.
“I'm really honoured and excited, South Africa are a massive team to work with. It's an environment I feel comfortable with, I understand the pressures.”
Kirsten said his decision to leave the Indian team had been based on his desire to spend more time with his family.
“It was time to move on and a cooling-off period from India was very important after a very respectful time with them. But it was an opportunity to consider new things as well.”
CSA chief executive Gerald Majola said addressing South Africa's repeated World Cup failings would be a priority but Kirsten said it was not his most immediate concern.
“The World Cup will be on the page at some stage, but not quite yet. It's important for me to discuss with the captains what strategies will suit us best in the near future, getting back to understanding the South African playing environment and how we're going to start introducing new players into the squad.”
India batsman Rahul Dravid said that his former coach had all the attributes to succeed in his new position.
“In some ways it was a natural, logical next step for Gary,” he told Reuters from Bangalore. “From our perspective it was a pity to lose him because we all enjoyed working with him. But India has to move on.”
Graham Ford, who coached South Africa from 1999 to 2001, said Kirsten would be more than capable of handling the pressure of the job.
“He handled the pressure and expectation that comes with being India's coach and he handled pressure when he was a player,” Ford told Reuters.
“It's a challenge he is used to and one I am sure he enjoys.”