Cape Town – By the time South Africa launch their home international summer with the first ODI against Zimbabwe at Kimberley on September 30, Ottis Gibson will have just clicked over into his second year of international obligations with the Proteas.
It was on September 29 last year at another less fashionable location, Potchefstroom, that it all began for the Barbadian: the first of two Tests against Bangladesh, which his new charges duly won by 333 runs.
With no further activity scheduled for the national side until their neighbours arrive, and following completion of the Sri Lankan tour with the sickly once-off Twenty20 international against Sri Lanka in Colombo on Tuesday, Gibson’s first year at the helm can now be thoroughly tooth-combed.
He ends it with a record, across the three formats, of 32 matches played, 18 won and 14 lost - a win success percentage of 56.25.
There’s a fair case for saying it is not the worst way statistically to start a contract due to run, as things stand, until completion of the red-letter task of the 2019 World Cup in the United Kingdom (late May to July).
Yes, there were a couple of “easy” foes along the way, but also headline Test series in quick succession against fellow-heavyweights India and Australia and one, most recently, on the ever-challenging Subcontinent.
Under Gibson’s charge, the Proteas also tended - though with some exceptions - in his first year to peak quite pleasingly when it mattered most, so that should be borne in mind by any detractors.
For example, those Test series against India and Australia were considered priorities as he first took the tiller, and both ended up being extremely pleasing triumphs.
Similarly, in the ODI portion of the just-completed Sri Lankan tour and as the 50-overs landscape increases in relevance, the Proteas played their best cricket in the first three matches, closing out the series spoils purposefully.
But they then slackened off acutely disappointingly in the last two encounters, and batted quite idiotically in the lone Twenty20 defeat.
Stark blemishes for Gibson, of course, were the 2-0 Test away series thrashing at the hands of the ‘Lankans, and violent 5-1 ODI home series reverse to India late last summer.
Under his watch, the Proteas very successfully blooded Aiden Markram in Test cricket (though rather less productively in ODIs thus far), and strapping young paceman Lungi Ngidi across both arenas.
Both have been fairly comforting developments, helping to offset the crippling retirements of established world-class figures AB de Villiers – his especially sudden and unexpected -- and Morne Morkel respectively.
Here is a brief summary of Gibson’s fortunes per format:
P12 W8 L4 – 66.66 win percentage
(Beat Bangladesh 2-0 home, beat Zimbabwe 1-0 home, beat India 2-1 home, beat Australia 3-1 home, lost to Sri Lanka 2-0 away … current world ranking 2nd)
Gibson had the demanding twin task, not too long into his reign, of avenging the controversial 2015 away Test series hiding from India and then - perhaps even more importantly - ending the strange pattern of the Proteas not being able to beat Australia at home in the post-isolation era, despite three rousing away conquests.
The boxes were handsomely ticked: India were soundly enough beaten at Newlands and Centurion, before earning a tense dead-rubber consolation win on a particularly spicy Wanderers surface.
Cherry on top of the season, however, was the hoodoo-breaking 3-1 triumph over the Baggy Greens, three ruthless wins (Port Elizabeth, Cape Town, Johannesburg) following that early hiccup in Durban.
Say what you like about the general fractiousness of the series and the sensational ball-tampering fiasco that rocked the Aussie camp at Newlands: it was already clear by then that the Proteas were applying a firm stranglehold.
Sadly the euphoria over Faf du Plessis’s Test heroes lessened, much more recently, when seemingly ill-prepared SA were humbled in Sri Lanka; certainly one of their most wretched, meek surrenders yet in Asia and with the batting frailties against spin under special scrutiny.
Gibson opted for Dale Benkenstein as his assistant coach for batting needs, and the former SA ODI player, it is probably fair to say, is yet to thoroughly convince many observers of his value based on weight of statistical returns at the crease, across the folds.
But the Proteas really should prosper anew in the five-day landscape this summer, when limited Pakistan and the poor-travelling ‘Lankans visit, with shaky records on our shores.
P14 W7 L7 – win percentage 50.00
(Beat Bangladesh 3-0 home, lost to India 5-1 home, beat Sri Lanka 3-2 away … current world ranking 4th)
Topsy-turvy stuff here: the mixed bag of results certainly bears that out.
Still, if you wanted to take a glass-half-full approach you could say that now, some 10 months out, is not a bad time to be well off any “peaking” trend (and the Proteas undoubtedly are that).
Gibson has also been clear and unapologetic in his experimental approach, chopping and changing his combinations liberally and not being shy to blood previously uncapped players.
The trouble is – and especially when certain supposedly senior personnel are either injured or under-delivering – that “depth” still seems an elusive phenomenon.
A host of inexperienced players (more particularly in the batting plans) seem to fire promisingly now and then, but also regress into periods of grave doubt about their longer-term attractiveness to the cause. In short, there are too many maybes and not enough certainties.
The Proteas need to start narrowing down their squad pretty soon, although the next series, at home to weak Zimbabwe, won’t answer too many pressing questions yet, will it?
South Africa also labour through the fact that too many of their frontline bowlers are rank non-batsmen, something that Gibson and lieutenants have to address quite urgently.
Against that backdrop, Vernon Philander, Chris Morris, Dwaine Pretorius … those are names that probably need to be spiritedly revisited over the next few months.
P6 W3 L3 – win percentage 50.00
(Beat Bangladesh 2-0 home, lost to India 2-1 home, lost to Sri Lanka 1-0 away … current world ranking 6th)
Bilateral T20 series (and sometimes they’re just once-off clashes) remain easily the lowest priorities in gravitas terms.
More often than not, you’ll hear captains say ahead of them that they’re “a bit of fun” and an opportunity for a bumper gate or two after - or even before - the superior tour demands of Tests and ODIs.
With the 50-overs World Cup the next major global get-together, T20 internationals will only pick up a certain head of steam for importance in the more immediate lead-up to the next ICC World T20, in Australia in 2020.
For the moment, the Proteas may be said to be relatively flatlining at the fastest-food stuff under Gibson … and that batting showing in Colombo on Tuesday was utterly wretched!
Final verdict: My overall, year-one rating for Gibson is an adequate enough 6/10, as attention now turns fiercely to his bid to bury SA’s deep-rooted World Cup bogey next year …
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