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Last Updated:  Sunday, 16 February, 2003, 15:43 GMT

Gibbs tames his talent
By Martin Gough
BBC Sport in Johannesburg

Herschelle Gibbs celebrates his century against New Zealand
Gibbs will always be a "free spirit", according to his biographer
His 143 against New Zealand at the Wanderers continued a run-filled season for South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs.

Not only was it his sixth one-day century since August, but it follows hot on the heels of a record-smashing Test 224 in a single day against Pakistan.

Colin Bryden, author of Herschelle: A Biography, which hit the shelves in the weeks leading up to the World Cup, believes this year has revealed a more mature Gibbs.

"It's probably the most important innings he's played," Bryden told BBC Sport.

"It's the World Cup, a big crowd at the Wanderers and a crucial game for both sides because neither can afford to lose another game.

"However, it probably wasn't one of his better innings because early on he struggled a lot, particularly against Andre Adams he had a few inside edges so he's a bit lucky."

While Gibbs could always be relied upon for an exciting cameo, it is only recently that he has been able to convert that into innings of substance.

It was because of his colour that he became an established member of the side
Herschelle Gibbs biographer

A six-month ban for his involvement in the match-fixing affair, which ended two years ago, provided a period of introspection.

More recently, West Indian batting legend, and now chairman of selectors, Viv Richards also played a part in the transformation.

The Master Blaster told Gibbs: "A guy who can hit the ball like you can doesn't have to hit every ball and doesn't have to do it from the first ball he faces."

Bryden adds: "He's always had a lot of shots but the difference this season is that he's got more discretion."

Whatever his stature now, it has been a long road for Gibbs, who turns 29 next Sunday.

"Although he made his first-class debut at 16 it took him several years to establish himself as a provincial player and a long time at international level," says Bryden.

"You started to wonder if he'd actually got the temperament - there was never any doubt about his talent."

The government-enforced inclusion of non-white players helped keep Gibbs in the team during an inconsistent early international career.

Herschelle Gibbs
Gibbs has found consistency to go with the raw talent

"There was no doubt that it was because of his colour that he became an established member of the side, usually batting in the middle order," Bryden admits.

The turning point came with his elevation up the order in 1997/98.

"He had been opening in one-day cricket but only once in his life in first-class cricket - it took him a little while but he really hasn't looked back since then as a player."

Gibbs has not been allowed to forget a youthful mistake four years ago, when his dropped catch allowed Australia's Steve Waugh to make 120 in a crucial World Cup Super Six match.

Australia's victory that day became the tie-breaker when the scores were even in the infamous semi-final a week later.

A chapter from Bryden's book recounting the incident is reprinted in the match programme for every World Cup game, along with Waugh's line: "How does it feel to have dropped the World Cup?"

A reprimand for smoking marijuana on tour in the West Indies is another blot on Gibbs' disciplinary record and there are countless tails of missed curfews.

But Bryden believes it is something that South Africa must accept if they are going to appreciate his talent.

"Herschelle's the sort of person who is always going to be a bit of a free spirit," he says.

"He's going to get up to mischief and sometimes more serious trouble. He's certainly a very lively personality."

Links to more South Africa stories


Colin Bryden
"It's probably the most important innings he's played because it's a World Cup"

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