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March 17, 2007
"Herschelle, at what stage did you realise it was a million dollars and not a million bottles of Johnnie Walker that was up for grabs?" The question was irreverent and came at the very tail-end of the press conference, but it was worthy of being asked. Herschelle Gibbs has been accused of many things in his career, but an ambassador for responsible drinking is surely not one of them.
And yet, the man who once claimed his return to form against West Indies had come on the back of "a pizza and a couple of Jack Daniels" had just won a whisky company's million-dollar challenge as the first man in the World Cup - and all international cricket for that matter - to slam six sixes in an over. The company in question, Johnnie Walker, apparently encourages the players in this tournament to "know their boundaries". In a colourful career that has encompassed match-fixing scandals, racism charges and dope-smoking, Gibbs has certainly crossed many more boundaries than the seven he pulled off today.
"The message came out that Jacques Kallis and I could have a dip, and we probably had a bigger dip than was needed," Gibbs said. "After the fourth one, I thought it could be on. I thought about using my feet and coming down the pitch, but then I changed my mind and decided to stay in the crease. The idea was for me to have another two goes at it [the record] and luckily I didn't miscue any of them, so it was quite nice."
They weren't miscues by any stretch of the imagination, but conventional shots they were not. Smears one and all, over long-off, long-on and midwicket, it was arguably some of the most reckless driving ever seen on a cricket pitch. "If the ball presents itself, I'll try everything," he said. "I was lucky the straight boundaries were quite small but the six sixes was a bonus, it was just nice to get a hit in the middle."
"Nice" was not an adjective the Netherlands captain, Luuk van Troost, was about to use in a hurry. Looking utterly shell-shocked, he gave an honest assessment of a gruelling day. "They totally outplayed us," he said. "This was world-class batting and the small boundaries were never going to help us. In the end we didn't do well enough, simple as that.
"I was quite happy with the start actually," he said after South Africa struggled to 4 for 1 after five overs. "But after that they were cruising. After we came off everyone was very negative, obviously, and so we thought, well, let's try to get them. It's the only way."
van Troost said his team had been suckered by the torrential morning rain, and erred in omitting both of their frontline spinners, Muhammad Kashif and Adeel Raja. Into the breach, and straight into history, stepped Daan van Bunge and his part-time legbreaks. "Daan bowled very well against Kenya and we thought he could be our spinner," van Troost said. "Well, it didn't work out very well that plan!"
What followed was an onslaught straight out of the annals of village cricket. "What can you say? There were a few good balls in it and a few shit balls," van Troost said. "I told Daan after the third ball, 'try to bowl a quicker one'. He said, 'I just did!' He had some flashbacks since then. Seriously, he started laughing as he was sitting in the dressing-room. Before the game we said let's make history today, well, we made history!
"It's terrible to be a captain in that situation. For the last couple of overs I didn't know where to put my players any more or where to bowl. I thought I'll take the last over, someone's got to do it." In the event, he too felt the wrath of a well-set international cricketer, as Kallis lashed each of his final three deliveries into the pavilion.
The nightmare, however, may only just be beginning for Holland. In two days they take on the Australians and van Troost was wincing at the prospect. "I don't want to think about it now," he said. "We've just got to take the positives out of this performance. The first ten overs were pretty good, I thought our fielding was pretty good, and Ryan ten Doeschate got a good 60. But perhaps tomorrow we'll have a team meeting and find a new gameplan. We have to improve a lot in the next two days."
A look at some of cricket's most memorable strokes - and their makers