Proteas: Is Gibson an all-tricks pony?

2017-08-30 22:03
Ottis Gibson (Gallo Images)

Cape Town - "He'll do well with the seam bowlers."

It is probably not too wide of the mark to suggest that as the likeliest, most confident theory from global cricket analysts as they digest the confirmed appointment of widely-travelled West Indian Ottis Gibson as new head coach of the South African national team on Wednesday.

It can be dangerous, and unfair, to pigeon-hole people, of course: just because his coaching reputation is overwhelmingly based on his strengths as a pace-bowling mentor and skills developer, why should there be an associated, underlying suggestion that he might not cut it as convincingly in the other key prongs of the game or as overall supremo?

Surely it is no crime - nor any automatic, negative commentary on broader abilities - to have specialised in one department for so long, including in separate stints with England?

Yet even as Barbados-born Gibson, 48, sat on the home balcony during that team's 3-1 recent Test series success against the very Proteas, it was impossible not to escape a feeling that pundits harbour at least a pinch of scepticism over his ability to be the commander-in-chief rather than a lieutenant with very specific responsibilities beneath the "main guy".

Just one to be fairly animated on the topic was popular Sky commentator and Caribbean pace legend Michael Holding, when strong rumours first surfaced in mid-series that Gibson was going to swap loyalties to South Africa.

Holding, in a nutshell, expressed bemusement that he would surrender a time-honoured reputation as a bowling guru in favour of picking up an international head-coach baton for a second crack.

Without saying it too directly, "Whispering Death" more than implied that Gibson, when he had a tenure in that capacity with West Indies, fell short of a roaring success.

Then again, though, which head coach since the start of the Windies' tumble from their hallowed former mastery of the 1970s and 80s has ever shown tangible signs of engineering a protracted revival?

He is entitled to start - or restart, if you prefer - with a clean slate in charge of the Proteas.

Whatever the merits or demerits of the "one area of expertise" argument, Ottis Delroy Gibson represents a definite freshening and novelty value to the SA post at the outset.

If you take aside the English blood (but Indian birth) of the late Bob Woolmer several tenures before him in the post-isolation era - Woolmer pretty much considered himself South African-rooted in later life - Gibson represents the first genuinely independent, overseas appointment to the job.

With it must come at least some ideas and processes that deviate from the domestic norm, and that may be no bad thing when you weigh up the current concerns and limitations around the franchise landscape in South Africa.

But just as comfortingly, he is also handily acquainted with our "provincial" scene - and its grounds, pitches, other hallmarks and unique prerequisites - through his playing affiliations with Border (1992-95) and Gauteng (2000/01).

It will help him feel at home pretty quickly, and that's useful because he may need to hit the ground more than jogging.

The Proteas have a possibly unprecedented 2017/18 home summer in terms of sheer volume of internationals, with Bangladesh - currently cock-a-hoop following a maiden Test triumph over Australia - arriving in around three weeks, and then headline series against India and the Aussies respectively.

Those two come hot on each other's heels after the inaugural, much-hyped T20 Global League spanning a generous six weeks even before a gruelling sequence of Test matches that will seriously examine fitness and durability - and by extension squad depth? - in the second half of the season.

Although the return from sabbatical after the Bangladeshi hostilities of a certain AB de Villiers to the middle order will instantly settle plenty of butterflies, it is almost certainly true to say that recapturing better levels of consistency on the Test specialist batting front will be a red-letter first major challenge for Gibson.

Keep this in mind, too: the former speedster's personal credentials in that area were never the worst in the world in his playing career - he was considered a legitimate, lower-order all-rounder, and he sports a first-class best of 155 for Durham in the County Championship.

You might say the two-Test (plus 15 ODIs) Gibson has seen the best and worst of South African cricket down the years: he was England bowling coach not only for the very recent Test series victory, but also when, for instance, in 2008, they whipped the Proteas 4-0 in the UK for one of our most unpalatable ODI series humiliations.

Then again, he was also the Windies' head coach when South Africa rampaged through the Caribbean in 2010, cleaning up the Test, ODI and T20 series while often barely raising the proverbial sweat.

Dips and peaks ... aren't they considered an enriching, educative part of the tapestry of life?

Oh, and at least there must be a particularly robust chance Gibson will put a halt to the Proteas' stubborn no-ball and get-wickets-with-no-balls viruses ...

*Follow our chief writer on Twitter: @RobHouwing

Read more on:    proteas  |  ottis gibson  |  cricket


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