'Agassi talked openly about his life. I've done the same'
Herschelle Gibbs played for South Africa for over a decade, for much of which time he was dubbed their "bad boy". Now in the twilight of his career, he claims to be more mature and wiser and ready to be completely honest about being the problem child of the national team. He spoke to ESPNcricinfo after the release of his autobiography.
Why did you decide to bring out an autobiography now?
I had a period of real self-reflection when I was in rehab. It was a really enlightening and self-satisfying experience. I was booked in there for a month and I decided that I may as well make every day count and be completely truthful about my life. After everything I had been through, I wanted to focus on what I'd done wrong and where I was going. Going to rehab was the most beneficial thing I did in 20 years. When the suggestion of the book came up, I thought, what better way to be completely open? I've often been asked questions about these things, so I wanted to give my opinion.
Former coach Mickey Arthur and team manager Dr Moosajee gave you an ultimatum: go to alcohol rehabilitation or you'll never play for South Africa again. Did you find it hard to believe you had a problem with alcohol?
For sure. There was a period when I did drink excessively but it wasn't like I couldn't live without it. I drank and went balls to the wall very often. But even my close mates will tell you, I've never kept alcohol in my house. The counsellors that we had at rehab said, even if you go big twice a year, you have a problem. I found that quite bizarre: if somebody drinks twice a year, they're regarded an alcoholic. If that was the case, there'd be a lot more alcoholics out there. I've cut down on my drinking a lot. I don't enjoy it anymore, and it's really quite nice to remember the things that happened the night before.
A lot of people may be turned off by chapter three, which in your words is about "women and booze". Why did you want to write about your own sexual exploits, particularly the 1997-98 tour of Australia and team orgies?
That was 12 years ago. I was in my twenties. Many people do that in their twenties. Being a cricketer doesn't make me different. I had a fantastic time in my twenties. I didn't mention any names or intend to get fellow players' names blackened. I'm not that sort of person. I put it in because it's something different readers can get from an autobiography. A lot of people said they enjoyed Andre Agassi because he talked openly about all his escapades in life. I did the same.
Besides the off-field controversies, you also revealed information about a so-called "clique" that runs the national team, consisting of Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers.
It was very obvious there was a clique and it was an issue I was asked about a lot. People could see it on television - those four guys are always together. Boucher, Kallis and de Villiers were senior players and they were outspoken, so they assisted Graeme. Graeme was powerful enough to overrule Mickey [Arthur] a lot of the time.
It sounds like you didn't get on with Mickey?
I always respected my coach, at any level that I played, and I never back-chatted him. It was understandable that Mickey would react in the way that he did to the senior players. I think it's important for a coach to have good player-management skills. Whenever I would make a suggestion in team meetings or in the field, I wouldn't get taken seriously, so I stopped making them. Now, at the Cobras and the Deccan Chargers, I am a bit more outspoken.
Did you make any close friends in the national team?
Vincent Barnes [who initially started as the bowling coach] has been my closest friend over the last 20 years. Because I didn't get close to any players, I took time to know the assistant coach.
The one coach you didn't mention in the book was Ray Jennings. How did you feel about his tenure?
He wasn't coach for very long, which is why I didn't mention it. Everybody who knows Jennings knows that he is stern, and they'll have an idea of what a strong person he can be. He didn't step back for anybody and he still doesn't.
Speaking of coaches, you must be pleased to see Gary Kirsten doing so well in India. Tell us about your friendship with him.
He is doing remarkably well. A lot of people don't know that Gary can be outgoing as well. Our friendship was not only very good on the field but off it as well. We worked together so often and so strongly. Mentally we went through a lot together.
An opening partnership is a tough thing to ask people to do consistently well. There are so many factors working against you. When you go out for the first session of a Test match, you don't know what the wicket is going to do, so you have to adjust together. Our personalities complimented each other well. He is just a beautiful man. During his last match I cried for hours and he kept looking at me and smiling, and I just couldn't stop crying.
A lot of your time spent with Gary was under Hansie Cronje's captaincy. You spoke of Hansie with great fondness, even saying you forgave him for the match-fixing scandal.
I think he couldn't live with himself anymore after all the wrongdoings. He was still a great captain and a good person. He had his faults but everybody has their faults. Some are bigger than others.
You and Gary also played under Shaun Pollock. What was the atmosphere like then?
It was an unfortunate time for Polly to take over, when everything broke. He wasn't the kind of guy who socialised with the rest of us, so although it was good that he didn't get too close to any players, he also kept to himself a lot of the time.
What do you think of the captaincy now, both Smith and Johan Botha?
Graeme has been captain for a long time. When he took over, nobody wanted to be captain, and he put his hand up and said "I'll do it." To ask anyone to mature beyond their years is unfair. He has matured over the years and now he is very astute and more together. There is still a difference between him and Hansie. Graeme has got too close to a lot of the players. Johan is more like Hansie - very professional, very abrupt, but still friendly. You know where you stand with him.
Which national batsman has most impressed you recently?
I'm very glad to see Hashim [Amla] develop into more of an all-round player. He's tried to up his tempo in the one-day game. He's worked on the short ball and pulling and hooking, which he needed to do to be a successful opener.
Who do you think is the most promising bowler in the South African side?
Wayne Parnell. Being a left-armer definitely helps because we have needed one for so long. I think he's got good skills, good pace and good swing. He's also adjusted well on the international scene. It's different for bowlers because they don't have a bat in their hands - they are born with the tools they need, which makes it a lot easier to adapt. The important thing will be to look after his longevity.
Why has South Africa not been able to win a World Cup, and can the current squad can change that?
Fear of failure. It is something I've seen, having played three World Cups. In 1999 we missed out because Australia had a better net run rate than ours. The team was so together and gelled at that stage that I felt if we had gone through to the final we would have been home, Jerome.
In 2007 how we planned and how we executed was different. The way we lost out to Australia was completely unexpected. I was batting at No. 4 and couldn't believe what I was seeing. We had a meeting the night before and we decided we'd go about our business calmly, and no one was calm. When Mickey was around he'd always say we must play brave cricket, but we couldn't do it when it came to the World Cup because guys sort of froze.
The current squad has all the credentials to go the World Cup with the confidence and flair they have been missing.
During the 2007 World Cup, some of the players were accused of being overweight and unfit. Did you feel the accusations were justified?
Any professional sportsmen, besides golfers, shouldn't be overweight. I was guilty of it in 2003, although I was probably playing my most consistent cricket then, so I really couldn't say too much about the weight issue. Weight and fitness can't always be linked. For example, we had a round of golf once and had a few beers after that and still went to do the bleep test and we all passed. I think the guys have a good fitness coach now and they are all doing better. Look at Bouchie - he has never been this fit in his life. I think it's sad that people don't enjoy exercise; it's good for their own health.
You mention money, and how much you earned, many times in the book. Are South African cricketers underpaid?
Not underpaid but we don't earn as much as other cricketers. Australia, who for years were always the dominant force, deserve to get paid more. But even English cricketers get huge money compared to us.
Do you think young cricketers these days shy away from playing Test cricket because there is more money to be made in shorter versions of the game?
Over the last five or six years, cricket has changed. When I was starting out everyone always wanted to play Test cricket. Take someone like Kieron Pollard, for example, if I was in his shoes, I would want to test myself for five years, play Test cricket and see how good I really am, rather than just playing Twenty20 all around the world. Because of the money that he gets paid, he won't do that.
Do you still want to play in the Indian Premier League?
I would like to be part of the IPL, and I don't mind which franchise I play for. We had three really good years at the Deccan Chargers but I wouldn't mind playing anywhere else. The concept came up at a good time for people on the verge of finishing, like myself. I'll be 37 next year, so I still have a good four years left. I think that they should cut down on the amount of 20-over cricket played worldwide so that the interest levels are even higher when the IPL comes around.
Are you surprised that match-fixing scandals still exist?
Very much so, I think the game is clean. Fixing a match is not easy at all. As I wrote in the book, you need at least 90% of the team to be in on it. Also, the ICC have made many awareness programmes to prevent match-fixing and the anti-corruption unit is very strong. It's unbelievable that's it's resurfaced after 10 years. In 1996 in India, Hansie offered the whole team money to throw the game. It came about again at the end of 1999. Hansie also had this power over us, so we couldn't say no. Now it's just stupid to try and do it. There is a lot more money to be made from cricket [legitimately] than there was then.
How scared were you when you were caught out?
I was pretty scared and it's not something I'm very proud of. I was actually quite relieved I didn't go through with the offer to throw my wicket away. When the King Commission happened and the findings were made, I thought that maybe if I had gone through with it, that would have been tickets for me.
Would you still like to play Test cricket?
I would like to, but I don't think I will. I don't even play four-day cricket anymore, because I think the Test team is settled. People sometimes ask me if I wish I could have played 100 Tests and I say no. I am happy to have played 90 Tests and not five Tests. I'm not a person for records.
Except on the day of the 438 game?
Well, that was different. We broke the record for chasing down the highest score in an ODI, but I didn't care about a record personally. I thought about getting 200 for about 20 seconds and I thought, "To hell with it." There were 19 overs to get those extra 25 runs, and I thought, if I get to 200 I can give it a smack after that. I would have been the first guy to get 200 there, but it didn't really interest me.
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent