Herschelle Gibbs: a career of exhilarating highs and avoidable lows

Herschelle Gibbs… devastating at his best © Getty Images

By Nishad Pai Vaidya

Herschelle Gibbs, born on February 23, 1974 was an exciting yet controversial figure in international cricket. An explosive batsman, he had the ability to script jaw-dropping performances that remains etched in memory. He was also a world class fielder who pulled off stunners and carried forward the legacy from the iconic Jonty Rhodes. Yet, Gibbs’s career would also be remembered for controversies that haunted him for quite some time.

Gibbs’s talent was recognised early; he made his debut in South African domestic cricket at the age of 16. It was a time when South Africa were returning to the international fold and were rebuilding their side after a long spell in wilderness. But he had to wait for six years for his first taste of highest level of the game. In 1996, Gibbs made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Kenya at Nairobi and donned the Test cap against India at the Coliseum called the Eden Gardens.

Early in his career, Gibbs took a bit of time to establish himself in South African ranks. It was only in 1998-99 that he found his feet in international cricket. He smashed his maiden ODI hundred against West Indies in January 1999 and then a double hundred against New Zealand in a Test match a few months down the line.

As the 1999 World Cup approached, South Africa had built a strong side with Gibbs forming a vital cog in the line-up. He would go on to form a formidable opening partnership with Gary Kirsten. In a campaign that saw them dominate, Gibbs provided them a few good starts, but in a crucial Super-Six encounter against Australia, he spilled a chance offered by Steve Waugh while in a hurry to celebrate. Waugh scored a hundred and Australia won the game. In the semi-final, they dramatically tied with the same opposition — only to see Australia go through.

The following year, Gibbs hit his lowest ebb when he was banned for his alleged involvement in match-fixing along with captain Hansie Cronje. He admitted that he agreed to throw his wicket during an ODI against India in 2000. However, in the course of the innings, he forgot about it and went on to make a significant score. However, the South African administration did not spare him as he was duly banned for six months.

Following the break, Gibbs returned a more consistent player and he stamped his authority on his spot. His aggressive approach to batting helped South Africa off to good starts and gave a sense of dynamism. In 2002, he scored three consecutive ODI hundreds — joining the likes of Saeed Anwar and Zaheer Abbas. Then, in early 2003, he smashed 228 against Pakistan in a Test match, which came while sharing a mammoth opening stand with Graeme Smith.

The two peaks that stand-out in his career came in 2006 and 2007. During the epic run-chase of 435 against Australia at Johannesburg, Gibbs smashed a mind-boggling 175 that helped South Africa achieve the improbable. He was smashing the ball at will and there was nothing the Australian bowlers could do with him in a rampaging mood. That knock is easily one of the greatest ever in one-day cricket history.

A year down the line, Gibbs became the first man to smash six sixes in an over in an international game. A hapless Dan Van Bunge of the Netherlands bore the brunt of this assault in a 2007 World Cup encounter in the Caribbean.

Later that year, Gibbs’ form dropped in Test cricket and he had played his last game by early 2008. His one-day career ran parallel as he continued to put in consistent performances in that arena. But, then came the trough in 2009, when the selectors “lost patience” with his inconsistency and he was axed from the ODI side. He was given a brief comeback early in 2010, but that fizzled out.

With Gibbs, controversies were never too far away as his autobiography To the Point created quite a ripple. Some of his accounts were too detailed and he said that he spoke openly like Andre Agassi. He even alleged that a few senior players in the South African side formed a group and were the dominant force. That was the final blow as Cricket South Africa terminated his contract in late 2010 and that put curtains on his hopes of playing the 2011 World Cup.

In the aftermath of that saga, Gibbs has become a successful T20 traveller. He plays across the world in several leagues and is still fit enough to play the “young man’s” format. The aggressive streak in his batting remains and he continues to dazzle the field with breathtaking performances. A chequered international career may be over, but the show goes on.

(Nishad Pai Vaidya is a Correspondent with CricketCountry and an analyst, anchor and voice-over artist for the site’s YouTube Channel. He shot to fame by spotting a wrong replay during IPL4 which resulted in Sachin Tendulkar’s dismissal. His insights on the game have come in for high praise from cerebral former cricketers. He has also participated on live TV talk-shows on cricket. Nishad can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/nishad_44)