To The Point | Herschelle Gibbs with Steve Smith
It’s one of those urban legends, a mythical classic in the world of sport, the quotable quote that would feature in year-enders—Steve Waugh telling Herschelle Gibbs: “Son, you just dropped the World Cup.”
Apparently, Gibbs neither “dropped” that catch nor did Waugh have any paternal advice for the South African. While Waugh has in the past denied being the source of that comment, now Gibbs too has put it in writing in his autobiography.
Gibbs had famously dropped a catch off Waugh (he had scored 56 then) during the 1999 World Cup when Australia were pretty much down and under, but the Aussie skipper went on to score a century. South Africa expectedly choked, lost the match and with it, one of their best chances of winning a World Cup. Gibbs says he had caught that ball and in a display of confidence, had thrown it, which looked like a drop in action replays.
Now, sportsmen are not writers—particularly not the sort who hated going to school, like Gibbs, who once said he had never read a book. But he is also the sort of character you would imagine would make for an entertaining book, having led a colourful life: women and wine, sex and scandal, booze and betting, everything the bad boys of this sport—from Ian Botham to Shane Warne—tend to do.
(Left) No revelations: Gibbs (right) calls Makhaya Ntini (wearing a helmet) a ‘funny guy who always enjoyed his cricket’. (Right) To The Point—The No-Holds-Barred Autobiography: Zebra Press, 236 pages, Rs599.
The first half of To The Point: The No-Holds-Barred Autobiography is a sequential narration of Gibbs recovering from one hangover to move to the next, from one woman to the other, from one good score to a bad one.
Gibbs tells us that one of his best knocks in One Day Internationals (ODI)—scoring 175 of 116 balls against Australia with South Africa chasing 434 and winning at the Wanderers—came after 12 hours of interrupted drinking with a fan’s mother, 6 hours of sleep and a spinning head. On another occasion, after throwing up twice—the result of another boozy night—Gibbs joined his teammates on the ground. “We started warm-up with a lengthy set of stretches. Lying there on my back on the soft Adelaide turf, the sun gently warming me, was exactly what my body craved… and I promptly fell asleep. One minute I was doing a stretch and the next thing I knew our trainer Paddy Upton was tapping me on the shoulder to wake me up.”
Why exactly would one want to read Gibbs’ autobiography? By his admission, he has written this to “celebrate life”. The bald South African opener will probably be remembered more for his tryst with the match-fixing scandal, for which he was banned for six months, and his relationship with Hansie Cronje, who he considers the best captain he has played with. Additionally, his struggle with alcoholism forms as much a part of his 14-year career as the 6,167 runs he scored in 90 Tests, his spectacular fielding and the six sixes he hit off one over in a ODI. For Indian fans, he plays for the Deccan Chargers in the Indian Premier League, and helped them to a title in 2009.
Sure, the salacious bits of Gibbs’ life are entertaining, like the pot smoking and the strip-club video; some of the bad-mouthing is curious (he suggests that Sachin Tendulkar focused on getting the double hundred instead of chasing a bigger team total in the Gwalior ODI this year) and the personality descriptions fascinating—“I asked him (Jacques Kallis) why he doesn’t say anything on the pitch. And he didn’t say anything.” But that’s just about as far as it goes.
To an extent, the book is an honest account of the cricketer’s life, of his misdemeanours, the mistakes he made in life and how he ruined his marriage. At no point, except when talking about his marriage, is he apologetic nor does he portray himself as a hero. Gibbs, considered prodigiously talented as an upcoming player, believes he was introduced to top class domestic cricket too early, setting his progress back by a few years. He believes South Africa’s conservative approach and fear of failure is responsible for their poor performances in big events. “So, are the Proteas chokers?... it’s an accurate assessment of some situations the team has been in.”
He talks about his own ability to excel on the big stage—“the greater the glory, the bigger the outcome, the more I am up for it”—which seems in sharp contrast to the team’s attitude to big pressure games.
There are not too many surprises or revelations, though some details of South African cricket (that captain Graeme Smith and a few others form a clique) have reportedly made some of his current teammates unhappy. Cricket South Africa (CSA) also terminated Gibbs’ national contract this month—through a mutual agreement—though it was to run till the end of April. The development came a month after the book was released, though Gibbs admits in To The Point that his Test career is over at 36.
Gibbs has never been the sort of cricketer to capture public imagination, like, say, a Warne or a Tendulkar. Even if he tells us that he was an entertaining and spontaneous cricketer (and he says that many times), and even if it was partly accurate, there is a certain detachment Gibbs has with audiences (contrary to what he believes). He constantly reminds us of his good looks which helped him get the women, about his outgoing and gregarious personality, his readiness to oblige fans, his willingness to play cricket as entertainingly as possible, but the repetitive monotony of these claims begins to jar like those dramatic scenes from TV soaps.
Written in an easy, diary-style, this is not a collector’s item but a quick fix in a local train or in a Goa shack, though you might sometimes need Google to figure out the liberally used South African terms—“ja”, “okes”, “bladdy”, “boet”, “kakk”. It’s a fairly uncomplicated read for strictly cricket and Gibbs fans without being a compelling must-have. There is no insight really, unless you include Gibbs’ take on India. “Everyone drives slowly and they even stop for a dog crossing the road.”
Where exactly does this happen?