To the Point November 20, 2010

All Hersch, zero subtlety

Gibbs' autobiography tells all - and leaves us with the impression that none of it is to be taken seriously

The face of Herschelle Gibbs, the man who infamously claimed he had never read a book, gleams unsettlingly from the cover of the one that bears his name.

His bristly lips slither around his teeth, which are gnashed into a foreboding grin. Iridescent white haloes trace spooky circles around the pupils of his eyes. The hard edge of his shaven head lurks fuzzy, out there somewhere. If this man banged on your door at some dark hour, you would give him whatever he wanted and plead with him not to hurt you.

Books shouldn't be judged by their covers, but it seems safe to do so in this case. For too long, people have given Gibbs too much of what he's wanted: too much to drink, too much sex, too many nudges and winks, too many chances, too many long hops. In return he has given them too much of his dark side and not enough by which to remember him well. For years he would cut sixes over point as casually as if he were twisting the cap off a bottle of beer. But just as easily he would blip catches softly, softly into the hands of mid-off. We giggle at his ongoing - unwitting? - parody of the rock-star lifestyle, and gag at his trashiness. He has won matches that looked lost. He has taken money to be dismissed for less than 20.

And now this, To the Point: The No-Holds-Barred Autobiography, as told to Steve Smith, a respected journalist who has captured Gibbs' voice authentically. It is the voice of a man who is on his way to being a geriatric delinquent.

Those who count themselves among cricket's more genteel aficionados should start their interaction with this book on page 125. The preceding six chapters will shatter their image of the game they think they know. Then again, perhaps they shouldn't skip those pages: they need educating.

Chapter three - "The good times" - is a litany of vice. Alcohol is abused so wantonly that readers might feel sorry for the demon drink itself. Women are nothing more than conquests awaiting conquest.

Chapter six, entitled "The controversies", ends thus: "Right. I think that's enough skandaal (scandal) for one book. Coming up next is a highlights reel that has more to do with bat and ball than having a ball..."

But there is value amid the muck. Gibbs' redemption may yet come from being unafraid to lay bare the car crash of his life for the rest of us to rubberneck at.

Young cricketers, particularly those who achieve beyond their years, sometimes grow into adults trapped in a web of adolescence. However much excess might befall them and however much success they might achieve, their worlds are somehow small and sad. Gibbs made his first-class debut at 16, and in some ways he isn't a moment older. He doesn't seem to have learnt much from the tribulations that have befallen him over the years.

He describes Hansie Cronje, who in a few grubby deals (that we know of) destroyed his reputation forever, as "a man I will always admire" and "the best captain I ever played under". Even after spending time in rehab, Gibbs writes that he "didn't, and still don't, believe that I am an alcoholic". He doesn't regret "calling those particular Pakistani fans a bunch of animals" at Centurion in 2007.

Also disturbing is the impression Gibbs gives that nothing he has experienced - neither match-fixing, sexual debauchery, alcoholism, nor that particular flavour of racism in which people are equated with animals - need be taken seriously.

But the honesty with which he tackles some of South African cricket's biggest issues is to be applauded. He dumps the Proteas' propensity to choke at the door of a conservative, tentative approach. He decides that the South African team is indeed divided by a clique of senior players. There is nothing to be read here that the cricket press hasn't covered before, but to have it confirmed from within is a refreshing change from the overly defensive pose players usually strike in the face of criticism.

It is doubtful whether Gibbs knows anything about subtlety, including how to spell it. But he does know how to be exciting, and he loves to entertain. On that score, then, To the Point is undiluted, uncut 100 per cent proof Herschelle. It should come with all sorts of warnings, including: reading this book could impair your ability to be drowsy for nights on end.

To the Point: The No-Holds-Barred Autobiography
by Herschelle Gibbs with Steve Smith
Random House Struik
272pp, R200

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

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