While not the most naturally gifted player, Gary Kirsten will go down as one of the best openers in the history of South African cricket.
Kirsten, who turned 48 on Monday, reinvented himself as one of the best coaches in the world after retiring from the game in 2004.
He was the first South Africa to play 100 Tests and score 20 centuries and ended his career with 7289 Test runs at an average of 45.27. He didn’t have the flair of a Herschelle Gibbs or the technique of a Daryl Cullinan, but Kirsten made up for that with sheer determination and fight to turn himself into one of the best openers of his era.
He made his debut in Australia in 1993-94, and in his second Test made typically understated contributions of 67 and 41 as South Africa won in Sydney by five runs. His first Test century (110 against England in Johannesburg) was two years and 17 Tests in coming, but Kirsten soon got a taste for the long innings – his 275 against England in Durban in 1999 equalled the then national record. Kirsten had decided to retire the night before he scored the double hundred after a string of poor performances left him on the bring of being dropped.
Eight of his 21 Test centuries were scores of more than 150. Kirsten was also the first South African to make 5000 Test runs. After retiring, he spent some time with the Warriors as a consultant batting coach, and in 2006 set up his own academy in Cape Town.
In December 2007 he signed a deal to coach India and during his reign they moved up to No. 1 in the Test rankings for the first time and also won the 2011 World Cup.
Kirsten left the India job after the World Cup and was successfully head hunted by South Africa, taking his country to the No.1 ranking after beating England away from home.
Kirsten left his post two years later in 2013 but helped out as a batting consultant and still coaches in the IPL.
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