The more observant and caring of South Africa’s fans may have noticed that Herschelle Gibbs has not said a word since his delayed arrival in India and subsequent questioning by Delhi Police. Not a word.
At least, not for publication. Well, his silence is about to be broken because Gibbs spoke in public just the other day, and he spoke in full, fearless vision of the entire South African media contingent – all three of us – at the team’s hotel in Ahmedabad. He was clearly unconcerned by our presence and not afraid to be quoted, so here it is:
“Hello boys,” he said, grinning. “What you been up to? Heck of a place to have a good time, here in Ahmedabad, hey?” We were sitting at a poolside table waiting to interview Jacques Kallis. Gibbs came strolling past after practice and dropped this bombshell, again fearless about being quoted:
“Boys, I have to tell you this – I’m going to order myself a club sandwich and a coke, and I’m gonna lie right here by the pool and take in some rays for the rest of the afternoon. Right or wrong, that’s what I’m going to do.” Gibbs then waved at Chris Gayle, the West Indies opener, who was milling around with some of his team mates looking very, very cool.
For eight long days between games, we followed practice, attended nets and interviewed players. We tried hard not to ask the same questions and we varied the personnel as much as possible, with the help of media manager Gordon Templeton. Having exhausted most of the players, we turned our attention to selector Joubert Strydom, assistant coach Vinnie Barnes and physiotherapist Shane Jabaar. The team’s local bus driver was next on the list. And still no Herschelle Gibbs.
We asked, making it clear that no questions about policemen, match-fixing or interrogations would be considered, but still, the answer was ‘no’. “Herschelle is not talking, sorry,” said Gordon.
This was a strict, non-negotiable edict issued by Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola. No questions about pitches, bowlers or his return to the top of the batting order. No questions about anything. Not even club sandwiches. Herschelle was NOT talking.
Well, we’ll see about that! We all heard him say he was ordering that club sandwich, and nobody said THAT was off the record! Ha!
It’s true that Herschelle can be a liability when he opens his mouth, but we had eight days to maintain the nation’s interest in a tournament that was going off like a wet Diwali firework. But Herschelle wasn’t talking. When we finished talking to Kallis, Hersch looked up from his sunbed and, in an amusing Richie Benaud accent, said: “Good by for now, gentlemen, and we look forward to the pleasure of your company some time again in the future…” Another quote. Ha. So much for the gag on Gibbs.
Time passes very slowly in a city like Ahmedabad. The favoured local pastime is sleeping on pavements, in the back of rickshaws and on makeshift beds of cardboard on the side of the street. At least, that’s what happens in the heat of the day which is mostly when we get to see the city.
In keeping with our determination to find the city’s redeeming features, we visited Mahatma Gandhi’s ‘Ashram’, a spiritual retreat he founded in 1915 (and was closed in 1933) where his ‘disciples’ could practice the lifestyle he advocated. They made, by hand, as many of their day-to-day needs as they could, including items like soap, matches, dishes, clothes and sandals as well as their food and drink. But a great deal of their time was also spent in prayer and meditation. These days that example appears to have been overtaken by…sleeping.
I hate to dwell on this point because I have no desire to run down another city or cause offence. But the truth is, Ahmedabad has more faeces on the street than any I have ever seen. Dogs, donkeys and camels can be understood, but the hundreds of thousands of poor, slum dwellers have no facilities and no space to relieve themselves so they squat on pavements and any piece of open ground nearby.
In much of the city, there is an everpresent smell of effluent, and unless you are very careful, or lucky, it comes from your shoes, too. And, of course, there is no bar in which to gather at the end of the day and unwind over a cold beer. I have yet to meet a tourist complaining or being disrespectful about the state of Gujarat’s alcohol-free policy – but for those accustomed to a ‘social hour’ at the end of the working day, it’s more about the company of your peers and colleagues than the beer.
Remember Patty Hearst, the American teenager kidnapped by a radical, loony group called the Symbionese Liberation Army in America in 1974? She was allegedly brainwashed by her abductors and ending up falling in love with them, even joining them in a bank robbery a year later and being convicted as a terrorist.
It happened again in subsequent years, hostages falling in love with their abductors. It was even given a name – “Stockholm Syndrome.”
I’m not sure if the opposite to Stockholm Syndrome has ever been given a name but, if it hasn’t then, with the greatest of respect and without wishing to cause anybody undue suffering or offence, may I suggest that it be called “Ahmedabad Syndrome.”
Questions? Comments? Suggestions? Feel free to get in touch.