Will Gary Kirsten save SA from being ridiculed as the perennial chokers or will MS Dhoni outwit India\'s ex-coach?
Gary Kirsten, the man who once said "I can go to war with Dhoni by my side", is set to lead a South African army against the MS Dhoni-led India, the side he famously coached to win the World Cup after ruling the Test rankings less than two years ago.
South Africa - who roped in Kirsten as coach after he quit his India job at the end of the 2011 World Cup - are in a straight shootout against India in the ICC World Twenty20. A win will give them a slim chance of making it to the semis, and who better than Kirsten, India's ex-coach, to tell the Proteas what to do and what not.
When Kirsten made the switch in 2011, India were enjoying view from the top without realising that their grip was weakening. On the other hand, South Africa had moved up a gear and Kirsten's appointment ensured that the shift was smooth enough to zoom past England. And by doing so, Kirsten became the first man to coach two teams to the top of the Test rankings.
But South Africa arrived in Sri Lanka jaded, after being on the road for three months - right from an energy-sapping tour of England to their first match in the Group stage of the World Twenty20.
And their worst fears are coming true in the island nation. The 'C' word has come back to haunt AB de Villiers' men, who haven't managed to win any of their Super Eight ties, losing two matches so far to Pakistan and Australia.
In Group 2, which features India as the fourth team, South Africa are at rock bottom with no points to show. But thanks to India's win over Pakistan on Sunday, they got a lifeline and now need to beat Kirsten's ex-pupils by a huge margin and hope Australia do the same to Pakistan the same day. That will repair their net run rate enough for a place in the semis.
To do that, the Proteas look up to Kirsten, who knows India and Dhoni's most moves, as he did during the days he helped India level a Test series in South Africa. And Dhoni, though an unchallenged master of instincts, shared the majority of his days as India captain with Kirsten as India coach. They strategised and re-strategised together, knowing each other inside out. What would Kirsten advise if this happens? Dhoni knows. How Dhoni would react if that happens? Kirsten is fully aware.
However, Kirsten played down talks of any such advantage by virtue of him being there in South Africa's dugout, along with India's ex-mental conditioning coach Paddy Upton.
"There is enough information available on every player to be analysed at length. There is Internet, there are recordings of matches available. So there are plenty of options and I don't think we have anything unique to offer," said Kirsten, who used to open for South Africa during his playing days.
True, but nothing compares to a first-hand source, and an ex-coach of your opponents brings you information that's not available on any platform. Kirsten is that source of South Africa in this do-or-die encounter.
But will Kirsten save South Africa from once again being ridiculed as the perennial chokers or will Dhoni outwit Kirsten? Tuesday will tell.