Herschelle Herman Gibbs
February 23, 1974, Green Point, Cape Town, Cape Province
Right hand bat
Right arm bowler
Herschelle Gibbs, who once owned up, with perverse pride, to never having read a book, has essayed enough incendiary innings to fill a fat volume and, in the field, cut down many a batsman with all the electric grace of an enraged poet. Though he might not bother with many more words than yes, no, wait, and mine, Gibbs inspires superlatives from those who marvel at his appetite for the spectacular. Ordinary he is not.
Gibbs has played some of the most outrageous strokes yet seen. How many other batsmen practice, seriously, cutting fast bowlers for six? Or drive throat balls down the ground? Or make pulling off the front foot look everyday? That goes for whether he is batting in the middle of the order or at the top, and whether the ball is old or new. Gibbs has put all that together so many times that he can't be accused of being some charlatan who deals in fluke and luck.
He did so in the grandest of manner at the Wanderers in 2006 to score 175 off 111 balls and help South Africa clinch a one-day series against Australia. The battleground scenes of this extraordinary match, that delivered totals of 434 for four and 438 for nine, swirled all about. But Gibbs batted with the glee of a teenager armed with his father's credit card in a strip club. Pressure? That's what other people feel.
When South Africans wondered who would replace Jonty Rhodes as a fielder of the most predatory type, Gibbs answered the call.
However, not all of the superlatives attached to him are positive, for when too much talent trips over itself, demons often also lurk. Alas, so it is with Gibbs. He is perhaps as gifted as any sportsman can be. He is also as poorly equipped for the trials of daily life as any human being can safely be. Dark tales of marijuana smoking, drunk driving and match-fixing have blotted his career. Gibbs is about as close as cricket has come to producing a punk rocker, a figure who veers too close to self-destruction too often for the likes of those who prefer their cricketers unblemished by the real world.
They can rest assured, because Gibbs' time at the top is nearing its end. A first-class career that began when he was just 16 is now into its 20th summer. As his 40s loom, he may even pick up a book or two.
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