<
>

The opening salvo

Herschelle Gibbs:s 107 & 196 v India (series)

Albert Camus with the bat he most certainly is not but Herschelle Gibbs has an unerring ability to turn conventional wisdom on its head and make the pundits looks like fools. Before the recent Test series

against India, they spoke of his vulnerability against high-quality spin bowling. Those voices were strangulated emphatically by Gibbs's blistering hundred at Bloemfontein as South Africa sought to overhaul a challenging Indian total.

And he wasn't finished. The 196 at Port Elizabeth was the piece de resistance of the series and by the time he was through, Harbhajan Singh and Anil Kumble resembled day-old kittens left in the rain. The bad deliveries were cut savagely through point or dispatched disdainfully through midwicket. The cheeky sweep was also in evidence as all the pre-series talk of his fallibility against the turning ball was shown to be so much hot air.

His gift of improvisation also caught the eye. When you're blessed with so many gifts, you don't always need to pick the delivery from the back of the hand. Like all the great openers, Gibbs rarely lets a bad ball go unpunished. What makes him special is his ability to make the good delivery look like a half-volley in disguise. And there are few batsmen who can marry power and timing to such devastating effect when they play the drive, cut or pull.

His musculature, speed of foot and quicksilver reflexes would have stood Herschelle Gibbs in good stead had he opted to follow in the footsteps of his childhood hero, Naas Botha, and become a rugby fly- half. He excelled in that role at school but ultimately, to the dismay of many bowlers that have been at the receiving end of his punitive blade, he chose cricket. But each time Gibbs bats, you can see how he has modelled himself on the Springbok legend. Like Botha's rugby, Gibbs's batting is all about instinct and fast-twitch fibres.

Cricket is purported to be a cerebral game, chess with a bat and ball. You wouldn't think so watching Gibbs play. He has far more in common with an Olympic sprinter twitching on the starting blocks than he has with someone like Mike Brearley. And like a greyhound once it leaves the starting gate, he is impossible to stop when in full flow.

Two years ago, Gibbs was a talented batsman who had taken only the odd sip at the pool of talent at his disposal. After his involvement in the Cronje scandal almost spelt endgame, he has changed beyond recognition. He knows he's a lucky man. His idol - the finest fly-half of his generation - spent his prime banished from the arc lights. Gibbs has a second chance - a wild card that he is making the most of. Just don't expect "Killing Me Softly" on the PA system when he walks out to bat. Chances are, they'll be playing Trent Reznor and Nine Inch Nails instead.