A conflict of morals in cricket

2010-11-26 00:00

“I PREFERRED doing it,” Herschelle Gibbs said at a talk I attended recently in a glitzy Cape Town hotel. He was referring to his sexual adventures. A week later, I was sitting in a room full of retired white folk, listening to a talk by Shaun Pollock: “I believe in striving towards excellence in all spheres of my life.” How fascinating to be in a room on two consecutive Saturdays with two cricketers who are equally talented, who respect each other, but who couldn’t be more opposite as human beings.

Here you have two people — one born into privilege and expectation, the other born into a struggling world where chances of success were slim, but who had an escape route in his sporting ability.

Pollock is the son of Peter Pollock, a former cricket star and the convenor of selectors who put him into the Proteas team for his debut in 1995. He is also the nephew of Graham Pollock, ESPN’s South African Cricketer of the 20th century. Pollock worked hard to be where he was and had family pressure to push him. He was expected to rise to the top and he took the opportunity with both hands, while being coached both as a cricket star and a leader.

Gibbs, on the other hand, grew up in relative poverty in Green Point, Cape Town. He was equally talented at cricket and rugby, but, feeling that he was too small to make it as a Springbok, he focused on cricket and joined the Proteas ODI line-up in 1999.

This contrast in their backgrounds could be, but is not, a good enough explanation for why Pollock, who was the Proteas captain from 2000 to 2003, oozes sophistication, leadership, charisma and class, while Gibbs remains the naughty schoolboy from St Joseph’s Marist College and the Diocesan College in Rondebosch.

Their only shared attribute, apart from being successful Proteas stars, is that they are fathers. They are grooming the leaders of tomorrow and maybe some more cricketing talent. This is where I am concerned about someone like Gibbs. He is not only a role model for his son, but for thousands of children in South Africa and around the world.

Sitting comfortably on a stage in the Table Bay Hotel, Gibbs often glanced down at his friends at one table, who laughed and joked as he debated the point of his book, To the Point, with Sunday Times sport editor Archie Henderson. One friend gave him a box of tissues in case any questions got too personal.

Gibbs spoke about his son’s 14th birthday and how he phoned him to see how a cricketing match had been. “He said he had started reading the book and was inspired by my story,” Gibbs told the audience. “His mother has brought him up well and made sure he didn’t read chapter three [the one where all the bad stuff happens].”

Gibbs represents the immature side of cricket. He was once caught smoking marijuana and now he has confessed to a whole episode of misdemeanours. A reason for his lack of responsibility is possibly summed up by his laissez faire attitude to cricket. That, and he’s never needed to work that hard to be where he is. “I couldn’t have improved my cricketing career if I had tried any harder,” he said, when I asked him about his untapped depths of talent. “I played with instinct and that was my style. Any extra work or focus would have done nothing to improve my game.”

During question time, a woman asked: “Now Herschelle, tell me, is Shaun Pollock as cute as they say he is?” to which Gibbs laughed: “Oh Polly ... he is very cute!”

... and very focused.

Pollock arrived at the Port Shepstone Country Club expecting to find a school audience. He had his iPad to show off to the school kids and a speech laced with morality and good values. Except, there was only one school kid in the room, and I don’t know how he got in. It was a fundraiser for the South Natal branch of the Association for the Physically Challenged and the audience was much older and wiser.

Pollock spoke about how his life’s disappointments and failures were his greatest lessons. Then he slid his fingers over his iPad screen like an infatuated lover until he found his sermon: “The seven Fs that guide my life”.

“None of them include that naughty word,” he began. Then he rattled them off, hoping the retirees of the south coast would learn a thing or two from his wisdom.

• Faith: Pollock said his faith in God has helped him through the good and the bad times.

• Fantasy: the ability to dream to reach the greatness of those around him, like Graham and Peter Pollock.

• Focus: there, he said it. “I dedicated myself to being a cricketer and so decided from an early age to be disciplined and sacrifice anything that would jeopardise my career. That is why I don’t smoke or drink.”

• Flexibility: when curve balls are thrown into the mix, the ability to “ride with the punches” is crucial. He said being dropped as captain taught him more than any of his successes.

• Follow through: having his eye on the ball and focusing on his goals all of the time, or as he said, “120% of the time”.

• Feedback: Pollock said he spends way too much time assessing his performances. “Being self-critical, I always assessed my performance to see how I could have improved, even when it was deemed a success.”

• Fighting fear: self-doubt was a killer that many Aussies tried to use against the Proteas with their relentless sledging. “You need to push through it,” he said. “The press often prints negative stories about you and so you have to learn to deal with failure.”

When the audience had their chance for questions, however, all they wanted to know about was Gibbs.

“He always had a licence to say whatever he wanted,” Pollock said. “He could get away with being politically incorrect. Once, we were trying to sort out our last-three batting line-up in the changing room, which is often a sore point for bowlers. We had to see who would bat 10, 11 and 12. It was between Paul Adams, Henry Williams and Makhaya Ntini. They were all fighting to stay away from batting last and we couldn’t find the solution. Hersch walked in and asked what we were discussing and then said: ‘Oh, that’s easy. Go in order: dark, darker and darkest’.”

Pollock said Gibbs was like the minister of foreign affairs on tour. “He can talk to anyone,” he said. “He has the gift of the gab and is really a good man. He is quite amusing, but also quite stupid. He once said the only book he read was his own, because he knew how it went.”

Henderson told the audience in Cape Town that Gibbs’s book is a good lesson to parents on the good, the bad and the ugly side of professional cricket. “Parents reading this book will see fully what goes on behind the scenes of cricket stars,” he said.

As entertainment, Gibbs is excellent value. He’s a character all teams enjoy. But he is the role model of what future cricketers should not be like. For what they should be like, they can turn to Polly.

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