To The Point: Much left unsaid?

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)

Zebra Press

pp236

This book review was first written for M magazine, January 2011

About Rajaraman 453 Articles
Born on March 10, 1961 in Hyderabad, I wanted to be an electronics engineer but my focus on cricket and basketball at school and junior college meant that I missed qualifying from the entrance examination. I led the School and Junior College basketball teams. I then decided he would be sports a journalist like my father, Mr N Ganesan. While I graduated in commerce from the Badruka College of Arts and Commerce, I also spent more time in sports, representing Andhra Pradesh in the National Basketball Championship in 1980 and Osmania University in 1981-82. I joined the 1981-82 batch of Osmania Univeristy's Bachelor in Communication and Journalism. I missed the gold medal by 0.6 per cent and was pursuing the Masters' degree when The Hindu offered me a job as Sub-Editor in Madras. I took up The Hindu assignment on March 17, 1983. Though my job entailed editing functions only, I got to cover the annual Sholavaram motor racing grands prix in 1985 and 1986 and the Himalayan Rally in 1985 when my photographs also found expression in The Sportstar. I left The Hindu in November 1986 to join Press Trust of India as Sports Reporter in Hyderabad. I was called to New Delhi to report on the World Table Tennis Championship in March 1987. I covered a variety of events, including the SAF Games in Calcutta in 1987 and Islamabad in 1989. I ventured to Delhi in July 1992 when I joined The Pioneer as a Senior Reporter/Sub-Editor (Sports). My cricket writing skills came to the fore when I was deputed to write on India's tour of Sri Lanka in July-August 1993. I was rewarded with a promotion as Deputy Sports Editor in 1995. The departure of the Sports Editor in January 1996 saw me hold charge. A good performance during the 1996 World Cup cricket and the Olympic Games in Atlanta - when The Pioneer brought out a four-page supplement every day saw me being confirmed as Sports Editor in August 1996. The Hindustan Times, Delhi's largest newspaper, appointed me as Associate Editor (Sports) in January 1997. I conceived and launched a weekly colour supplement, Sport during the World Cup football finals in 1998. I covered the 1998 Asian Games in Bangkok and the 1999 World Cup cricket in England. I left the Hindustan Times on February 23, 2000 to take up position as Editor, www.cricketnext.com on February 26 and can claim with pride that I played no mean role in building a good site that is rated among the best cricket news sites. Besides, a number of TV channels – NDTV, Star News, Doordarshan, CNBC, Zee News – and radio stations like BBC, SABC and ABC have invite me to in-studio discussions on cricket. In 2001, I authored a book, Match-fixing: The Enemy Within (Har Anand Publications). I joined www.espnstar.com as Senior Editor in June 2001 and worked for two years, helping it transform from a corporate website to a respected sports site and playing a role in driving the hugely popular online fantasy cricket game, Super Selector. I left the website to pursue life as a freelance writer and consultant, editing the Afro-Asian Games Observer in Hyderabad in October-November 2003 and helping the Board of Control for Cricket in India's Communication Committee. I joined the respected weekly magazine Outlook as Senior Special Correspondent in April 2005 and worked there till September 2007, with a story highlighting Sunil Gavaskar's minimal contribution to Indian cricket after his retirement being one of the best in my career. For a year, till Sept 30, 2008, I was Sports Editor, Samay, Sahara India's National news channel. I live in New Delhi with my wife Sudha and daughter Priya and after a short stint with www.iplt20.com and www.t20.com, I am now consultant with the Organising Committee Commonwealth Games 2010 Delhi (28° 40' 0 N, 77° 13' 0 E) lending my shoulder to the wheel that will make India a hugely popular sports destination.