Wonderful Gibbs challenge

Cricket South Africa and Herschelle Gibbs face a challenge. And like all the best challenges in life, it should be exciting enough to fill its participants with a heady mix of determination and adrenalin.

For those who want to treat his omission from the test squad for the final two tests of the summer as some sort of funereal tragedy, there are surely other melodramas to become involved in. For those who still want to bring out the best in Herschelle Herman Gibbs, the challenge is only just beginning.

The first recorded disciplinary problems Gibbs had with cricketing authorities date back to when he was 16. But that’s only because official recording started then when he was selected to play for Western Province.

Unofficially, no doubt, the list goes back considerably before that. There’s no point in listing or rehashing his indiscretions over the years – unless that’s the kind of bizarre thing that turns you on – because the best way to look has always been forward.

There is a school of thought that suggests Gibbs has had his time, that his moment has been and gone and his star has fallen. There are even people who say that Gibbs’ rare and unorthodox talent has gone, that he has ‘lost it’ as a player. Those same people appear to forget that less than a month ago he played one of the most remarkable innings in South African cricketing history, albeit in a one-day game.

So just how disastrous has his summer been? In 12 test innings against Australia, he averaged 30. That’s better than Mark Boucher (29.4), Jacques Rudolph (26.7), AB de Villiers (23.25) and Graeme Smith (23). Of the specialist batsmen, only Ashwell Prince (32) and Jacques Kallis (46) fared better than Gibbs.

Four months ago Damian Martyn was involved in an embarrassing, booze-fuelled altercation with an ex-fiancee in a nightclub in Perth. She subsequently sold her trashy story to a trashy tabloid for trashy cash and Martyn, who is certainly no angel, was left licking the wounds caused by his harsh axing from the Australian test team and that horrible failed relationship in which she took him to court and won several hundred thousand dollars on the basis that they had cohabited for more than three years.

And people think Herschelle Gibbs has a troubled life?

Damian Martyn is 34, he won back his test place for the tour of South Africa, played the innings of his life to clinch a whitewash three-nil series triumph and has kept off the front pages and stayed on the back pages of the newspapers.

And people say Herschelle Gibbs, just turned 32, can’t do the same?

Four years ago Gibbs came very close to suspension when, with a suspended sentence already hanging over him, he was implicated in the infamous Antigua dope-smoking celebration. Only thanks to some brilliant negotiating from his defence lawyer, Tony Irish, did he escape.

Irish, now the chief executive of SACA – the players’ association – argued that it was pointless banning Gibbs because nobody would gain anything. The team and the public would be the poorer for Gibbs’ absence and the player himself would learn nothing. What Gibbs needed, said Irish, was help. Not punishment.

So he was despatched into the care of Morne du Plessis for a life skills course. And it worked, too, although he has since, perhaps, forgotten some of those lessons. We all need a refresher course from time to time.

There may not be an answer. Or Cricket South Africa may never find it. And Gibbs will keep crashing his car, both literally and metaphorically, because that’s who he is, but that’s no reason for his countrymen to write him off prematurely. His bosses and teammates must calmly keep looking for the answer.

Herschelle himself, of course, knows what the answer is. He knows all the flaws and pitfalls of his life and lifestyle. He knows what he needs to do. And the fact that he played a significant part in his own release from the squad for the final two tests suggests, maybe, that he is prepared to start doing what he needs to do.

Then again, maybe it’s just another false dawn.


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