South Africa v West Indies, The Oval, Pool B September 18, 2004

Gibbs's secret ingredient

The Wisden Verdict by John Stern at The Oval
The Wisden Verdict by John Stern at The Oval



Herschelle Gibbs: Oval fan © Getty Images

Cricket devotees in London tend to be either Lord's people or Oval people. Herschelle Gibbs is clearly an Oval man. The last time he played here, a year ago, he made 183 in a Test match that South Africa lost.

We don't yet know whether his hundred in this match will produce the right result, but it was certainly a much-needed change of fortune for Gibbs himself. His recent one-day record betrays his exceptional talent: the last time he made a one-day hundred was 17 months ago, against New Zealand in the World Cup. Since then he has batted 34 times, being dismissed for a single-figure score on 15 occasions.

Gibbs is one of those Peter Pan players: forever lithe and youthful. But he is 30, no longer an enfant, terrible or otherwise. The South African camp have been staunch in their support of Gibbs, but senior players cannot afford to fail forever.

The secret of his success, he claimed later, was eating pizza for dinner on Friday night, washed down with "a little Jack Daniels". Apparently he hadn't had pizza for a couple of months. No pizza, no runs. He stretched the theme to breaking point, even suggesting that his balance might have been enhanced by his weighty carbohydrate-based meal. You can see sports nutritionists the world over banging their heads against the wall in despair. What next? A chain of Herchelli's Pizza restaurants in Cape Town?

Gibbs reached his hundred with a majestic straight six off Chris Gayle. The celebration was pretty low-key: helmet off and raised, with bat, to the crowd. He looked well aware that whooping high-fives were not in order.

On the other hand understatement is certainly not Gayle's watchword. When Dwayne Bravo caught Gibbs on the long-off boundary, Gayle performed an elaborate ritual that implied vaguely that he had lassoed the batsman.

West Indies now need Gayle to match Gibbs with the bat. What will he be having for dinner?

John Stern is editor of The Wisden Cricketer magazine.