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News Analysis

Titans sign Gibbs for semi-final

Titans have signed Herschelle Gibbs for their semi-final against Warriors on Wednesday

Firdose Moonda
Firdose Moonda
Herschelle Gibbs hasn't played a domestic game in South Africa in 13 months  •  Getty Images

Herschelle Gibbs hasn't played a domestic game in South Africa in 13 months  •  Getty Images

Herschelle Gibbs last played alongside AB de Villiers more than three years ago. Since then de Villiers has been elevated to South Africa's one-day captaincy, he is their wicketkeeper and the No. 3 and joint No. 1 batsman in the Test and ODI rankings.
Gibbs, on the other hand, went freelance and played for teams ranging from Khulna Royal Bengals in the Bangladesh Premier League to Perth Scorchers in the Big Bash, and annoyed the establishment with his tell-all biography. In it Gibbs claimed de Villiers was part of a clique of players that controlled the national team. However, he will have to bury the hatchet when he wears the light blue Titans kit and goes in to bat for the team de Villiers has played for his whole life, against Warriors in the Ram Slam T20 Challenge semi-final.
The bad boy of South African cricket is coming back, in the least expected way. Always a Cape Town boy, Gibbs has gone cross-country to play in Centurion. Titans shelled out an undisclosed amount of big money to secure his services - even though it could amount to only one game.
They are hoping for an explosive performance to ensure they qualify for the lucrative Champions League T20. For that to happen, Titans must win their knockout match against Warriors in East London to reach Sunday's domestic T20 final. Both teams in that fixture, Lions having already secured their spot, will be granted automatic entry into the CL T20 main draw by virtue of South Africa's shareholder status.
Should Titans get there, it is unlikely Gibbs will play for them in the Champions League. Perth Scorchers are already confirmed participants, having finished runners-up of the Big Bash, and will probably have first rights to him. But that does not matter right now.
The immediate goal is to win the play-off and, despite having internationals Morne Morkel, de Villiers and Farhaan Behardien available, Titans felt they needed some extra oomph.
If there were any concerns about Gibbs and de Villiers getting along, some of them were eased when Gibbs ran into the South African squad in their hotel in Perth late last year. He was there preparing for the Big Bash, and South Africa had just won the series against Australia. Gibbs remembered having a brief chat with some of them and indicated a lot of the issues had been cleared.
"Professional sportsmen get paid to play," Jacques Faul, chief executive of the Titans, told ESPNcricinfo. "We want them all to be happy and to be a team but at the end of the day we select a group of skilled players and we need the professionalism to match that skill." Matthew Maynard, who first encountered Gibbs at Glamorgan, believes the opener has enough of both to make a big impact.
Maynard was courting Gibbs from the beginning of the season but a hamstring injury interrupted their negotiations. When Scott Styris became unavailable for Titans for the crucial rounds, Maynard tried Gibbs again and, having healed fully, he agreed to join them.
Gibbs has not played competitively since January and he has never played in the Titans set-up but Maynard is not worried about that. He sees Gibbs as highly adaptable because of the amount of moving around he has done in T20 leagues around the world.
"Everything Herschelle does is 100 miles per hour. He moves like a 20-year old, not a man who is in his late thirties," Maynard said. "He reminds me a lot of Viv Richards in that sense. The impact he can have on the dressing room is a factor as well because he's an incredibly positive person."
Even his patchy performance for the Scorchers is not something that perturbs Maynard. "His form doesn't concern me at all. When you are a player like Herschelle, you've probably hit 70,000 balls in your career. He won't have much to think about - just a see it and hit it philosophy, and sometimes a break can work very well.
"It's tough to expect him to come in and strike an 85 off 50 balls. If he did do that, it would be very nice, but I signed him because of his energy in the field, his impact on the dressing room and his ability with the bat. It's a lot more than just runs, it's more about the character. And he has a lot of character."
His spark has been missing from South African fields for 13 months, when Gibbs last appeared in a domestic match. New talent is being unearthed at domestic level, which made it difficult for Cobras to hang on to Gibbs.
The heady days and nights of his fearless knocks have faded to the back of the cricket consciousness here but Titans hope they can bring it back, even if it's just for one night. "It's sad that he doesn't play anymore," Faul said. "He is a real talent, especially in T20 leagues."
East London will witness that on Wednesday and maybe Gibbs will appear at the Wanderers again if he takes Titans to the final.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent