I told myself to read To The Point with a very open mind. I was determined not to have any expectations. Especially, expectations that would be based on the news reports that surfaced in the wake of the launch of the book in South Africa earlier this year. These had focussed on some of his less than complimentary revelations about the South African team. I also convinced myself that since not all cricketers who write about their experiences answer to the name of Steve Waugh, I should not expect a rival for his heavy and interesting autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone.
Yet, there was one memory of Herschelle Gibbs that stuck in my mind when I picked up the book. It was of him playing for Deccan Chargers against Delhi Daredevils at the Ferozshah Kotla in Delhi in the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League. He had hit a couple of audacious sixes off Glenn McGrath but charged down the track to hit leg-spinner Amit Mishra over the covers and was beaten by a googly to have the middle stump bent back. He found the lure of the flighted delivery too strong to resist. And left the wicket open for destruction. Since the greybeards have insisted that cricket – and indeed all sport – reflects life at large, I believe that one moment captures the essence of Gibbs’s approach to not just his cricket but also life.
Indeed, that memory from May 2008 kept floating back from the sub-conscious many times during the reading of Gibbs’ roller coaster ride in the world of cricket and refuses to fade away as I sit down to write these lines about To the Point. By his own admission, there are many aspects of his life where he has been lured by temptation – and ended up losing not just his wicket but also money, wife, friends and a lot else, not the least being his contract with Cricket South Africa.
One of the intrinsic features of the book is its apparent honesty. It does take a brave man to share the romps with women he and some of his mates had in Australia, his journey into an alcohol rehab centre and his having a son out of wedlock. Or, indeed, to delve into the reasons for the break-up of his marriage after just a year. For someone who spent a lot of time with his mates in the Proteas cricket side, he has also taken an enormous risk talking about a clique within the team. Is it bravery or bravado? Not surprisingly, this question was relevant even to his cricket.
It is a pity that Gibbs has used the excuse of being drunk as an escape route to explain many memory lapses around key events in his life. His has been an amazing journey – both as a cricketer who broke into senior cricket when he was barely 16 and as a evolving human whose time in a rehab clinic taught him the immense value of introspection. Perhaps it is this growing maturity, stemming from a coming to terms with who he really is, that allowed him to risk writing a great deal of what went into the book.
Yet, for all the lack of fear and honesty in the book, there is much that he seems to leave unsaid. Even though, Gibbs has spoken of skipper Graeme Smith, Mark Boucher, Jacques Kallis and AB de Villiers as a clique, I was not left any wiser as to why someone with his experience did not seem to have a great equation with Smith. And it will be a good wager that he would have expected his contract with Cricket South Africa to come to a quick end after the publication of the book. There are glimpses of Gibbs leadership skills to be had in the manner in which he got the rehab centre to make changes and yet, strangely, he never considered himself for any leadership roles within the South African team.
Talking of Gibbs and his presence in the South African team – and that is what we have seen more than anything else – his perception of why the side appears to lack big match temperament and loses the key games like World Cup finals is engaging. His mates may not agree with his assessment of how the side panics and forgets that it may have designed a Plan B in the first place.
I paid only a little bit more than cursory attention to some of the chapters in the book and I have to admit that since Gibbs was close to the centre ofl’affaire match fixing in the year 2000 when South Africa captain Hansie Cronje’s flirtations with the murky came to the fore, I was looking forward to his take on what happened. I could not help breaking into a smile when he described Delhi’s Commissioner of Police KK Paul as someone who made his career out of him. “.. the case was high profile and often reported on in the media, which had made KK Paul something of a big deal and had resulted in several promotions for him…,” Gibbs writes. Even cricketer-authors get their facts wrong sometimes and assume a larger than necessary role in the lives of others.
I also found it interesting that the only serious reference to Sachin Tendulkar in the book seems to suggest that the little big man of Indian cricket – who he calls a total genius – was focussed on collecting records rather than play for his team. “… he slowed down in the final four or five overs to make sure he got the record,” Gibbs writes, “… if I was in Sachin’s position, I would’ve really gone balls-to-the-wall to try to see if I could get my team close to 480 or 500 runs rather focus on my own double century.” I guess there is more to Tendulkar than just a relentless pursuit of records.
The preface to the book by Gary Kirsten, now coach of the Indian team and Gibbs’ opening partner for many years, makes for an interesting read in itself. He writes that the projection of Gibbs as a maverick, prone to self destruction and always living on the edge is, on some levels, accurate. Kirsten also speaks of his friend as a genuine and generous bloke with an exceptional wit who would ensure that there would be no dull moments when he was around.
Come to think of it, reading Gibb’s entertaining and, often, no-holds-barred book has been quite a unique experience – it gave me some new insights into the mind of a mercurial cricketer who lived life in the fast lane, as it were. And it made it hard for me to stop myself from wondering if there would be any Indian cricketer who can write as candidly about his cricket and, more importantly, his life. I can think of many whose books can make very interesting reads but it is unlikely that any will step forward and be as candid as Herschelle Gibbs has been in opening up with To The Point.
To The Point
Herschelle Gibbs (with Steve Smith)
This book review was first written for M magazine, January 2011