Life is good -- without Herschelle

Herschelle Gibbs was right about one thing during his seemingly endless run of press interviews to promote his biography. The current Proteas team really are in a “good place” at the moment—and that has nothing to do with Dubai or the United Arab Emirates.

Although he would never see it in himself—indeed, he would either snigger or laugh out loud at the suggestion—Gibbs was one of the “difficult” characters in the national squad. His absence has not only contributed to the bond among current players, but his “revelations” in his autobiography, To the Point, have made it stronger.

It takes a very strong personality to stand up to Gibbs’s version of innocent fun but, now, not only is there no need to, there’s also no need to tolerate it.
When he was just “having a bit of a laugh”, there were those who were cringing and wishing they were somewhere else.

He may have no idea, yet, of what he has done by telling such a puerile tale—not to others, but to himself. Most people regarded his antics as something akin to a tragic zoo accident—“you can hardly blame the lion because the child fell into its enclosure”. Consequently, he was forgiven and pardoned, time and time again. It’s different now.

This time there can be no case made for instinct and “spur of the moment”. It takes many months to produce enough words to fill a book and, although most of the hard work is done by the ghost writer, he has still contributed a great deal of time to it. A book is premeditated and gives someone a lot of time for reflection and introspection. Perhaps he needed to do it as part of a catharsis but even someone as shallow as Gibbs would have known what effect it would have.

Different person
Graeme Smith is now a very different person from the one who ruled the squad with his trusted henchmen (Jacques Kallis, Mark Boucher and, variously, AB de Villiers and Justin Kemp) two or three years ago. And far from being a hapless victim of their power, the coach—Mickey Arthur—reasoned that a captain and senior players were better off with quiet guidance and opinion rather than rules, regulations and the inevitable power struggle.

Colin Ingram, David Miller and “Lopsie” Tsotsobe have blossomed as individuals as well as cricketers in the new squad, while Hashim Amla’s extraordinary skill and personality is flourishing like no other.

“I haven’t changed anything technically,” said Amla after his match-winning, unbeaten 119 on Tuesday, his fifth ODI century this year. “It’s just a case of assessing the conditions and playing accordingly.”

He would never say it, or probably even think it, but a conducive environment certainly helps and new coach Corrie van Zyl’s discipline and work ethic are being feasted on by the players.

Johan Botha represents the best about the self-security of the players, something conspicuously missing from many of the teams Gibbs played in—despite the bravado designed to disguise it.

Criticised for getting his equations wrong during Sunday’s frenetic loss to Pakistan in the face of a scintillating onslaught from Abdul Razzaq, the stand-in skipper admitted that he should have bowled his full 10 overs rather than just eight and that he should have taken more responsibility at the death of the innings and bowled himself rather than the struggling Albie Morkel.

“I certainly thought about it, and AB said I should have bowled, but I tried to make the best decision for the team. But next time might be different. I certainly learned from it,” Botha said with the genuine confidence of a man who knows he is still learning rather than the insecurity of a man who is afraid of criticism.

Many questions
There are many questions still to be answered before the management and selectors can be satisfied that they have a squad to challenge for the World Cup—and most of them concern the bowlers. Charl Langeveldt has done nothing to suggest he can regain the ability to bowl under power-play conditions that first won him a place and Morkel has been equally unconvincing.

Robin Peterson is primarily a defensive spinner as back-up to Botha. A bolder and more attacking option would be to select Imran Tahir or Thandi Tshabalala. But that would require a complete change of attitude to global events and there’s no point in having a gun if you’re not prepared to open the safe and use it. And, anyway, talk of guns and “attacking options” may quickly be made redundant if Dale Steyn returns to the attack for Friday’s fourth ODI in Dubai.

One selection that will not happen, however, is the return of Herschelle Herman Gibbs. Now that he has given even his most loyal and stubborn supporters a reason (or excuse) to turn their backs and look the other way, he is going to have to make more of an effort than ever before to give his life a meaningful context.

And for the first time there will be no turning back to the Proteas. Ever again.

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