Gibbs sees a bit of himself in fearless de Kock
When Quinton de Kock was on 99, he decided he was in a hurry. He charged down the track to Mohammad Shami and swung hard. Luckily for him, it didn't take the edge but ended up being mistimed down the track. There was a collective gulp at SuperSport Park from all but one man. Herschelle Gibbs was beaming.
"Look - he's not even interested in stats," Gibbs, who was part of one of the commentary teams, told ESPNcricinfo. "Others would have played a more conservative shot. But at least he wants to do something different."
A delivery later, de Kock tucked one away on the leg side to bring up his third consecutive century. Only Saeed Anwar, Zaheer Abbas, AB de Villiers and Herschelle Gibbs had managed that feat before him.
The man on air, Mluleki Ntsabo, reeled off the elite list de Kock had joined and when he got to Gibbs' name, Sunil Gavaskar fist bumped the South African, interrupting his soft applause. "It's out with the old and in with the new," Gibbs bellowed. For the first time since he last turned out for South Africa in May 2010, it sounded like he actually believed those words.
Gibbs has not retired from international cricket and he doesn't let people forget that. Just last month, in an interview with the local press agency, Gibbs reiterated his desire to play at top level. "I'd still like to play for South Africa... I know what I can offer and what I am capable of," he said then.
Fearless cricket is what Gibbs has always advocated and is the thing he believed he could to contribute to an outfit he has often criticised for being too formulaic. Gibbs held that up as the primary reason South Africa have failed to win a World Cup so far, and what he has repeatedly said they need to change if they are to be successful in future events. He usually put himself forward as the man who could lead that strategy but today, he handed the baton to someone else. Someone who reminds him a little bit of himself.
"He also doesn't think a lot," Gibbs joked. "He is more of an instinctive player. Which is what a lot of 20-year-olds are. I haven't seen a lot of him but I know he has got all the shots. Now he's putting the pieces together."
What impresses Gibbs about de Kock is his carefreeness at the crease, something South Africa are trying to keep under some control. That's why a senior player reminds him to "take it easy" at the end of most overs. De Kock has mostly heeded the advice and reined in the urge to whack everything that comes his way into next week.
That was on display today more than usual when he saw off a controlled opening spell of swing from Shami and more discipline from the other two Indian pacers than they have shown in the series so far. "We saw him bat uncharacteristically for the first 40 runs," Gibbs said. "He kept the big shots in the bag, which was a good thing to see at his age. And then he rode his luck."
De Kock was dropped twice - on 37 and 43 - but did not let that affect the way he played. He had AB de Villiers to run singles with and was allowed some aggression, particularly off Virat Kohli.
Once he passed the fifty mark, de Kock converted the knock into a triple-digit score again to keep his record at 100%. He played the drive and pull that he is making his name on, but also continued to charge all the bowlers and punish half volleys.
"His shot selection is really good," Gibbs said. "But his power play is as good as his touch play, which is what you need to score hundreds. He likes the game going forward and is not shy to hit boundaries even in the middle period. He has got all the shots and all the understanding. The more he plays, the more he will learn."
Gibbs predicted de Kock will continue to keep Graeme Smith out of the side and will be one the key players in South Africa's 2015 World Cup campaign. Gibbs hopes de Kock does not focus that far ahead just yet, however, but concentrates on more immediate matters instead.
"Who is the next one-day series against?" Gibbs asked. When he was informed South Africa are not scheduled to play any 50-overs cricket before taking on Zimbabwe next July, he only had one thing on his mind. "He could make it four in four," he said, referring to hundreds.
"I almost did it," he remembered. Gibbs' three consecutive hundreds started at the 2002 Champions Trophy when he raised his bat against Kenya and India. In the home series which followed against Bangladesh he scored 153 off 131 balls and saw an opportunity to do it again in Benoni but with South Africa chasing just 155, he ended unbeaten on 97. "We ran out of runs," he said, with a tinge of regret that soon gave way to smile.
So does Gibbs have any advice for de Kock if he finds himself in a similar situation? "No, I don't really know him that well. I just chatted with him briefly on the plane from Johannesburg to Cape Town after the first Twenty20 against Pakistan. We didn't speak about too much," Gibbs confessed. "He didn't ask my advice. He doesn't need it."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent