New, improved Gibbs profits from patience
Watching Herschelle Gibbs in full flow is one of the more delightful viewing experiences in cricket today, his grace and style elevating him above most other contemporary hard-hitting batsmen. He has competition - notably in Suresh Raina - for his typical hits over cover but no one comes close to matching the delicious swat-flick that he plays. He exhibited that today, nonchalantly picking up Manpreet Gony for a six over long leg. But he also exhibited another side - Gibbs Mark II - that eventually took Deccan Chargers to their fourth win on the trot.
It was a strange game, with several shifts of pace and balance. Deccan began their chase of a gettable target in a maelstrom of boundaries before the spin of Muttiah Muralitharan and Raina stemmed, then strangled, the flow. Gibbs Mark I would have hit his way out of trouble - or off the ground. The new version didn't play a shot in anger against spin, instead reserving his energy for the seamers before pulling it off in style in the last over.
It's how he played the middle overs against the slow bowlers, though, that really spoke volumes about his transformation. 106 runs were required from 96 balls when Chennai put Murali and Raina to work in tandem. Gibbs showed Murali due respect but that was no surprise; indeed, it could have been the pre-game plan as well. It's the way he handled Raina that revealed the new maturity. Raina did his best to tempt him, offering up gently floated full deliveries and a couple of short deliveries, but Gibbs patted them away.
It wasn't really a surprise, though, if you'd seen him in action against Mumbai last week. That time, he tried hard to remain till the end; he was cautious then against Harbhajan Singh but ransacked the others. In the middle overs he allowed Dwayne Smith to go after the bowling while he worked the ball around. But he was run out after a misunderstanding with Venugopal Rao and couldn't see the innings through.
Nothing went wrong today, though. He guided the likes of Rohit Sharma and the inexperienced Azharuddin Bilkahia, a point his captain referred to after the match. "He took the decision not to hit against Raina and it worked," Adam Gilchrist said. "Rohit too played the slow bowlers quietly. It was crucial not to lose wickets there as it could have got tough later."
That was a key point - Deccan are a touch top-heavy in their batting. With VVS Laxman yet to get going, one of Gilchrist or Gibbs has to guide the middle order along. On recent evidence, Gibbs has decided it will be his role. It's not what he does for South Africa, where he is expected to provide a fiery start while the likes of Kallis, Boucher and Duminy control the middle order. In this tournament, Gibbs has shown that he can adapt to the new responsibility.
Yet who could have predicted Gibbs' turnaround given his recent past? Gilchrist later said that before the tournament he had spoken to South Africa's coach Mickey Arthur, who'd assured him that Gibbs was in a great frame of mind. "He has made some big life decisions recently. He has consulted with the people around him who matter and has gone ahead and made them. Arthur told me he's in a fantastic frame of mind. The enthusiasm he has shown to be involved and contribute to the team has been great. Today, it was great to see how he finished the game without a hint of panic."
Gibbs had the last word, though - he sent Gilchrist to the post-match press conference. "He told me, I got out on him and left him there alone while batting," Gilchrist said. "So I should go to meet the press." When you are contributing as heavily to the team's success as Gibbs is doing, the captain will forgive a few eccentricities.
Karna S is a freelance cricket writer