Talisman Gibbs sits out?
Rob Houwing, Sport24 chief writer
Cape Town – In terms of recent Newlands one-day international history, it really ought to be a fait accompli that Herschelle Gibbs returns to the Proteas side for the vital third match against England on Friday.
But Tuesday’s press conference at the ground featuring South African coach Mickey Arthur left everyone none the wiser as to whether this will be the case.
Gibbs a gamble? Yes, of course the veteran stroke-player would be that.
But he is also exactly the sort of mercurial cricketer the Proteas arguably need urgently as they seek to pull back from a nasty little 1-0 deficit in the weather-compressed series.
And his ODI track record over the past few years at his beloved home ground is such that he really should come out to an expected full house for Friday’s contest.
South Africa, strangely misfiring at this relatively fledgling stage of the summer, have won all of their last nine ODIs at Newlands - with Gibbs featuring in the lot of them.
He has generally batted notably well during the glorious run, too, which stretches back to 2003/04.
Only once in that time has he failed to reach double figures, his average is just a fraction under 50 for the eight innings he’s played (he was not required to bat in a 10-wicket mauling of Pakistan in 2006/07) and he boasts scorching centuries against New Zealand (119) in 2007/08 and this week’s opponents England (100) in their last Cape Town meeting in 2004/05.
There is, of course, the issue of how to fit him in because Alviro Petersen and Hashim Amla - both fighting spiritedly to nail down regular ODI spots and cash in on the enforced absence of Jacques Kallis - got runs in what turned out to be the opening game of this series at Centurion.
Petersen, coming to grips with an especially unfamiliar personal role at No 5, registered a run-a-ball 64 and Amla, opening, struck a slightly more moderate-tempo 57 before getting out when perhaps he ought to have kicked on.
It would be bad luck if either missed the Newlands cut, but sentiment also ought not be allowed to cloud circumstance – the Proteas trail in the series because England made disconcertingly light work of chasing down 250 despite the competent showings of Petersen and Amla.
With their attack rather haemorrhaging, South Africa, in a nutshell, simply have to make more runs, and Gibbs replacing either of these players (Amla, more likely?) among the top five is this writer’s proposed route to that likelihood.
But Arthur was giving nothing away on Tuesday and, indeed, maybe even hinted that Gibbs will not crack the nod: “Hersch has obviously just come in as a replacement for Jacques,” he said. “A straight swap for swap.
“I’ve seen media reports and obviously there’s slight confusion: Hersch, if he plays for us, will bat in the middle order. Alviro is at five and he did unbelievably well (at SuperSport Park).”
If Gibbs’s strong Cape Town lobby were offered any hope, however, perhaps it came when Arthur reminded that Petersen is extremely familiar with an opening role for his franchise outfit, the Highveld Lions.
That might suggest that the Proteas are at least weighing up a front five comprising captain Graeme Smith and Petersen (with Amla thus the unfortunate fall-guy), followed by AB de Villiers, JP Duminy and Gibbs.
“Hashim has provided cover in positions one, two and three for over a year now, and done that particularly well when he’s had opportunities,” added Arthur, only deepening the intrigue.
“We think there could be a role for Hersch down the middle order at some stage. There’s obviously the experience factor with him, and we know he’s a quality player.
“But I think the guys who came in really did well. I was impressed with the energy of our new guys: Amla, Petersen and (Ryan) McLaren were exceptional, so I’m pretty sure they’ll get another run come Friday night.”
Once again, then, it seemed “disadvantage Gibbs” … and a good prospect that those rosy Newlands stats of his, and overall talismanic presence in an impressive sequence of triumphs, are going to be left in the pavilion for this one.