MUMBAI Departing India coach Gary Kirsten hailed World Cup winning-captain Mahendra Singh Dhoni as the best leader in contemporary cricket as he bid an emotional goodbye on Tuesday following a successful three years in charge.
The former South Africa opener, who refused an extension to his contract which ended at the completion of the World Cup, reckons Dhoni has a lot more to offer.
"I believe that he's the best captain in world cricket today. He's a leader by example," Kirsten, who took over the reins of the India team in Dec. 2007, told reporters in his farewell news conference.
"He expects his troops to be ready for battle. He's calm and level-headed. I have never seen him lose his temper. If things don't go well, he takes the responsibility."
Kirsten, 43, will leave for South Africa on Tuesday after helping India become the number one test side and win the World Cup after a gap of 28 years in his first stint as a national coach.
"Tonight I leave with my wife to return home to South Africa. It has been a remarkable journey with Team India over the last three years," an almost tearful Kirsten read from a statement.
"This will remain one of the most cherished experiences of my life. Believe me when I say that this is one of the hardest of goodbyes that I ever had to say."
The cricketers and the India cricket board (BCCI) made repeated requests to him to stay on in the role but Kirsten refused to budge on his decision to return home to his family.
"I just want to take a break. Even I don't know what I am going to do next," Kirsten, dressed in a BCCI blazer and tie, told reporters.
"I am going home to spend some time with my family. At some stage I have to consider my future.
"I am very fortunate to receive a few offers. I have turned them all down with a specific reason of wanting to have a good time after the Indian job and spend time with the family I have missed tremendously over the last three years."
Kirsten, who scored 34 international hundreds during his playing days, said it will be difficult for the as yet unnamed new coach to maintain the high standards that have been set but he felt a strong foundation has been laid.
"We set our goals as a team way back in October 2008. We wanted to become the number one-ranked test team in the world and win the World Cup," he continued reading from a sheet of paper.
"We have achieved both of these goals, and the players of both the test team and World Cup squad can be extremely proud of this magnificent achievement.
"It's going to be tough for the new coach in terms of the standards that has been set by the team.
"There's no reason why this team should not continue with success. The foundation has been set and there are some good young players coming through."
(Editing by Mark Meadows; to query or comment on this story, email firstname.lastname@example.org)