Gibbs appeared bullet-proof

2008-11-11 00:00

EVEN during his days as a schoolboy at Bishops, Herschelle Gibbs became accustomed to being put on a pedestal. As he grew up it became apparent that this was a boy blessed with such natural sporting talent that he could pursue a career in any number of sports, should he choose to.

He struggled academically, but his sporting ability got him through school and was the key to opening doors for him when he left. He entered the arena of professional sport at a tender age and walked into lucrative sponsorship deals. Herschelle was catapulted into the life of a professional cricketer and quickly took on an image based on his success on the field and a lavish lifestyle off it.

Herschelle is fun to be around, full of life and generous sometimes to the extreme. He loves making people happy around him and is always surrounded by those who find his exuberance contagious, admire his talent and, unfortunately, also those who exploit his generosity.

His zest for life and the fact that he never wanted to miss out often got him into trouble. But for many years he was untouchable — he got away with a lot because his natural genius would always bale him out on the field irrespective of what was happening off it. Admittedly, he would be rapped over the knuckles, but players and selectors alike knew that, although harsher punishments should have been metered out, they could not afford to have him banned as they needed Herschelle to win games for them.

The quota system was another factor that made Herschelle appear almost bullet-proof. If Herschelle were dropped due to disciplinary reasons, there were very few players of colour to replace him and certainly no-one who could match his ability.

Herschelle’s fairytale days soon began to fade however — he managed to perpetuate his lavish lifestyle, but at the same time, was forced to confront the harsh reality that his star-studded days as an international cricketer were coming to an end. Never before had Herschelle had to face the prospect of being dropped. His whole identity has been tied up in being a world-class cricketer and his exploits of late show what a bitter pill it’s been for him to swallow.

Cricket South Africa have finally taken a stand and sent him away to clean up his act. The selectors can deal with Herschelle’s absence now because he isn’t the run machine he was in the past. In my opinion the fall of Herschelle Gibbs highlights strongly the need for the mentoring of talented youngsters — had he been guided over the years, there is no doubt he would not be in the position he is in now.

It’s tough hearing former players dismissing Herschelle now and saying he’s been given enough chances and that he needs to show some responsibility, but they do have a point. However, cricketers, selectors, the media and even the public all need to take some responsibility for who Herschelle Gibbs has become and ensure that future talented youngsters don’t suffer a similar fate.

Herschelle faces a tough road ahead and will need support from all quarters to get through it. He wil always be remembered as a cricketing genius, but also as an uncomfortable reminder of the dangers that the fame and fortune of professional sport can bring.

• Neil Johnson is a former Natal, WP and Zimbabwe all-rounder who now lives and coaches in Pietermaritzburg.

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