Gibbs the Gab sells it as he sees it

Following the launch of Herschelle Gibbs’s new autobiography, To the Point, South African cricketers have been scrambling to respond to shocking allegations that some of them occasionally have sex and drink alcohol.

Selected extracts from Gibbs’s book were published in several Sunday newspapers and focused almost exclusively on the cricketer’s sexual exploits, his failed marriage and his encounters with drugs and alcohol, as well as his involvement with a match-fixing scandal.

In an interview with online site Sport24, Proteas captain Graeme Smith remarked: “I haven’t read the book yet, but I have to confess that the rest of the team and I are hurt by some of the things he says.”

Former cricket correspondent Colin Bryden, who wrote Gibbs’s first autobiography in 2003, commented that the extracts from the new book, which is written by sports writer and editor Steve Smith, made for “sordid” and “depressing reading”, before labelling Gibbs “a 36-year-old who has yet to grow up, who has seemingly managed to avoid taking responsibility for his own life”.

In the introduction to the book former cricketer and current Indian cricket coach Gary Kirsten offered a slightly different view: “The media have projected him as something of a maverick, prone to self-destruction and always living on the edge.
On some levels this is an accurate reflection and he would be the first to tell you that — What has not been as well documented is what a thoroughly genuine and generous human being he is.

He would be more than happy to give the shirt off his back, if that meant making someone else’s day.”

What you see is what you get
Smith [the writer] concurs: “I genuinely like Herschelle. What you see is what you get. That’s rare when it comes to interviewing professional sportsmen and women. Today’s athletes are so schooled in how to deal with the press, there’s always this veneer. It’s not that way with Herschelle. He’s massively talented and very flawed at the same time.

You can see it. That’s why South Africans love him. In spite of when he’s messed up, in spite of the match-fixing and the alcohol, he’s a mensch.”

“I’ve made mistakes. I’ve learned from them,” Gibbs says. “Barring one or two things, I don’t regret anything I’ve done. I stand here today and I’m not embarrassed about who I am. I’ve never held myself higher or thought I was different to anyone else.”

In the days following the book’s launch Gibbs kept his game face on, smiling as he answered a seemingly endless onslaught of questions about girls, booze and bribes.

He even took the time to respond, individually, to fans (and critics) on his Twitter page. “It was my story and I had nothing to hide, bru,” Gibbs wrote in reply to one query, “or would you like another boring autobio?” he asked.

“What I like about this book is that I think Gibbs’s warts and all come through,” Smith says.

“There’s no ‘cue the violins, what a great guy’ kind of feeling. It’s quite a maverick approach. And he really wanted to tell his story.”

Facing reality
The idea for the book came about after Gibbs was forced to spend a month in rehabilitation for alcohol abuse in 2009.

“Rehab was such a turning point for me,” Gibbs says, though he still says he doesn’t believe he is an alcoholic. “It allowed me to get away from the cricketing world and be completely honest with myself. After my divorce, the trouble I was having with drinking, it was a good time to sit and contemplate life.

“I’ve been on the road for nearly 20 years. I’ve had to look after myself. I don’t really have this bond with my dad, my mom, my family. In rehab I had to talk to complete strangers, share my most intimate thoughts and feelings ... Put my trust in them.”

When he came out of rehab, Gibbs gave his first public interview, to Smith, for GQ magazine. The positive response to the candid article convinced Gibbs and Smith—and the publishers—that it was time for the batsman to write a new book.

To get the story Smith followed Gibbs to India, where he was playing in the Indian Premier League. “There was heavy security because of terror threats,” Smith recalls, “and it was the first time the IPL was being played back in India [after it was moved to South Africa in 2009]. Players were not allowed to leave their hotels and were ­ferried in convoy from the hotel to the cricket ground.”

The Proteas and Gibbs
Between matches, Gibbs and Smith would find quiet spots in the hotel and sit and talk. “Gibbs is a fantastic storyteller,” Smith says. “He would have me laughing, literally falling off my chair. He was also really, really open. I’d have to stop him at times, pull it back a bit. There was nothing new about the match-fixing, but we did take out some of the cricketers’ names.

We knew we had to cover issues like his relationships with women, his marriage, the match-fixing, his time in rehab. As a cricket fan, I also wanted to know what he thought of the South African team, and what his relationship was like with the other cricketers.”

This may not be clear from early press reports, but the book (which, for the record, I have read) actually talks about cricket in some detail—from Gibbs’s early career and big matches to his thoughts on his teammates, his own “top 10” players and a ballsy chapter titled, “The Proteas and me”.

For any cricket lover, it’s these bits that prove far more interesting than the so-called scandalous parts.

Equally, the chapter in which Gibbs talks about his relationship with his teenage son, Rashard, which “started off shaky, but the future looks bright”, and his failed marriage—“the exact opposite”—reveals more about Gibbs now, at the age of 36, than his earlier exploits or conquests.

What the future holds
On the field Gibbs has always been an “instinctive type of player who just goes out and plays. I don’t think too much about what I am doing once I’m out there, to be honest.” Off the field it’s the opposite: he’s ­pausing, thinking more.

Though Gibbs is still contracted by Cricket South Africa, he has been left out of the South African team and admits that he “probably won’t be part of the World Cup team” in 2011.

While he’ll no doubt carry on playing for the Cape Cobras and the IPL for a few more years, Gibbs is facing the prospect of staying in one place for more than a few days at a time.

“A few years ago I started thinking about what to do after cricket,” Gibbs says. “I’m thinking more about life. The future holds a lot of uncertainty, and it’s a little bit scary. The world we live in as cricketers, it’s a wonderful place, but it’s far from reality.”