The clock is ticking on the career of one of modern cricket's most exciting and controversial players.
Herschelle Gibbs’ axing for South Africa’s One Day series with Bangladesh might spell the end of one of cricket’s most colourful careers. Controversy has followed the explosive Cape Towner around and it would be sadly apt if an off-field indiscretion is to be Gibbs’ final contribution to South African cricket.
Gibbs will be 35 in February and cannot be seen as a long-term part of the Proteas’ plans. Dropped from the Test team in January, his hopes of continued selection for limited overs cricket hung in the balance even before his latest error of judgment, with the selectors keen to rebuild after the One Day team’s heavy defeat in England.
If this is to be the end for Gibbs, he should be remembered for his stunning strokeplay, not the ill-discipline that dogged his career, although this is not an attempt to gloss over his failure to live up to the role model status he was afforded as a representation of South Africa’s united sporting future.
It is easy to dwell on his role in the Cronje match-fixing scandal, his unseemly altercation with Pakistani fans that brought a two Test ban and his drink-related bans, but my principal memory of Gibbs will be his flawless 183 at the Oval in September 2003.
That innings was a microcosm of Gibbs’ career. He exhibited his full range of strokes, striking 36 boundaries and totally mastering the home bowling attack, but his dismissal shortly before the close, slogging wildly at Ashley Giles, precipitated a collapse that culminated in unexpected defeat.
Gibbs’ hand-eye coordination and attacking instinct made him one of the most fluent batsmen of modern times, capable of destruction that puts him in the same bracket as fellow modern-day dashers Adam Gilchrist and Sanath Jayasuriya.
However, Gibbs never utilised his massive natural talent in quite the same way as those left-handed stroke makers, hinting at the petulant and undisciplined streak that got him in hot water with the authorities.
Even his status as one of the game’s greatest ever fielders is tarnished by his dropping of Steve Waugh during the 1999 World Cup, with the Aussie’s riposte to the fielder’s haste to celebrate now in cricketing folklore.
Gibbs fans will choose another encounter with South Africa’s fiercest rivals as Gibbs’ career-defining moment.
No other player could have played the innings Gibbs did in taking the Proteas to their target of 435 in the famous One Day match at the Wanderers in March 2006. 175 from 111 balls, with 21 fours and seven sixes, was the ultimate showcase of Gibbs’ talent. A unique match and a unique player.
Written by Philip Oliver, a sports writer who blogs about cricket betting.