One with blithe spirit

Herschelle Gibbs proved himself but, unfortunately, South Africa was knocked out in the first round.-Pic. REUTERS

HE loves living dangerously. But then, walking the tightrope does come naturally to this blithe spirit. Ask him, and he might even be willing to dance with the devil!

Herschelle Gibbs of quick eyes, fast hands, and a speedy mind, can entertain and enthrall, disappoint and disgust, taking his supporters through the whole gamut.

In World Cup 2003, this dashing opener had his aficionados in a tizzy, however, South Africa that got its mathematics woefully wrong, was tossed out on a rainy night at the Kingsmead. That's the way life goes!

Four years earlier, on an eventful English afternoon, he had somehow contrived to put down Steve Waugh after all but holding a regulation catch, prompting the great Australian, a master of the mind game, to remark, `You've dropped the World Cup mate.'

Provided a lifeline in that dramatic Super Six duel, Steve Waugh conjured a match-winning hundred, inspiring Australia to a remarkable triumph. And the miss would go on to give Gibbs sleepless nights.

This South African does have the knack of getting himself into trouble, and his admission of guilt in the match-fixing scandal, cast dark clouds over his career, before a relatively light sentence bailed him out.

And not surprisingly, he found himself in a mess during South Africa's last Caribbean campaign, hauled up for the consumption of marijuana. Could he get his career back on track?

To his credit, Gibbs managed to rescue his cricketing life, and was quite simply the key man at the top of the order in a rather wobbly South African World Cup line-up. He sparkled too, with 384 runs from six stints in the middle. Gibbs blew a good start against the Caribbeans in that thriller at Newlands, but dismissed the Kenyan attack ruthlessly at Potchefstroom, in a whirlwind unbeaten 66-ball 87. The Proteas had scored their first points and Gibbs was well on his way.

And he was awesome at the Wanderers rattling up a 141-ball 143, handling Shane Bond & Co. with the kind of flair and panache that sets apart the truly gifted. Gibbs, with the ability to pick the line a shade earlier than most and hit through it, and judge the length in a jiffy, enabling him to go on to either foot in a flash, dazzled in the first 15 overs, drilling holes in the cordon and then dug in, still using his feet to milk the Kiwi spinners for the ones and the twos, still pulling and cutting when the pacemen erred in length. Ironically, that was a day when a combination of Stephen Fleming's brilliance, 'keeper Mark Boucher's big miss and rain, ensured that Gibbs still finished on the losing side. He was angry and hurt, and wasted little time in running down Shaun Pollock's captaincy.

Differences were still simmering in the South African ranks when the host side met Sri Lanka in what really was a `do or die' day-night battle at the Kingsmead. Riding on Marvan Atapattu's well-paced hundred, Sri Lanka put together a challenging 268 and, under the lights, it was a demanding task.

Gibbs orchestrated the chase well, cutting, driving and pulling his way to 73, before moving too far across in a bid to sweep Muttiah Muralitharan and losing his leg-stump. It was another night that would end in a huge disappointment for him.

S. DINAKAR