Ottis Gibson won’t have a lot of time to create a positive first impression. He arrives about two weeks before South Africa play the first of two Tests against Bangladesh in Potchefstroom starting on September 28.
And while the Bangladeshis may not be as menacing away from home - yet - as they are in their own conditions, their confidence would have increased significantly following their historic success in the opening Test against Australia.
Quite what Gibson does in terms of support staff for that series is as yet not known. Those who served on the management team under Russell Domingo all saw their contracts end after the England tour. Cricket SA will encourage Gibson to utilise local assistants but if he wants a couple of overseas experts he should, one feels, be allowed those.
In fact putting together that back-room staff will be a key element of Gibson’s first few months in charge reckons Dave Nosworthy, a former team-mate of Gibson’s from the Barbadian’s stint as a Border player, who has coached in South Africa, New Zealand and England.
“He must have around him a strong support staff in which he trusts - that’s very important,” said Nosworthy.
Whether two weeks is enough to put together a support staff Gibson can trust is doubtful. He may have to rely on the knowledge of the former staff in the short term and then, following three ODIs against Bangladesh, he has a bit of breathing room during the Global T20, and can hop around the country and shore up his knowledge on local conditions and domestic personnel ahead of the Boxing Day Test - against whoever that will be.
Undoubtedly those who were responsible for head-hunting Gibson may also provide him with some guidance as to the best local man to bring onto his staff to provide ‘domestic’ knowledge with the Highveld Lions’ coach Geoffrey Toyana and the Warriors’ Malibongwe Maketa the two leading candidates for that spot.
Nosworthy describes Gibson as an honest man, with strong character and great integrity. “I’ve known him for a long time, we shared a house together in East London as team-mates at Border ... it was a fun and exciting time with lots of, err, activity.. We have stayed in touch and I don’t have a bad word to say about him. Not many do.”
That stint of about three years spent playing for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng - where Toyana was one of his teammates - had a major impact on Gibson and gave him insight into what Cricket SA’s CEO Haroon Lorgat, called the “strategic imperatives” the organisation must implement.
Administrative politics will hold no fears for Gibson - he was head coach of the West Indies after all, and politics in that region makes South Africa’s squabbles look like child’s play. Of greater concern will be the depth of talent at Gibson’s disposal especially as he tries to piece together the makings of a squad that can mount a challenge at the 2019 World Cup. Make no mistake, for while there are vital, high profile Test series’ on the horizon - against India and Australia on home soil this summer - it is achieving success in an ICC event that carries huge importance for South African cricket.
Crucial to turning South Africa’s tournament fortunes in a positive direction is addressing the mental frailties that have beset the players at those events. That is something that can only be properly tackled closer to the tournament itself because in the meanwhile Gibson has to assess the personnel required to participate in that event and build them into a cohesive unit - something that was absent at the recent ICC Champions Trophy -over the next 18 months.
“There are a number of strategic moves that must be made and key pillars have to be identified,” said Nosworthy. “One example, something I harp on about, is identifying a ‘death’ bowler, someone that has to do that job consistently.”
Of course getting to that point will involve Gibson gaining a clear understanding of the quality of players available in the country at the moment. The loss of Kyle Abbott, Rilee Rossouw and others to Kolpak contracts has significantly weakened the depth of quality available to Gibson. At the same time however - taking an optimistic view - it provides other players with an opportunity to draw the coach’s attention.
There is raw talent available at domestic level but it requires refining and polishing and whether 18 months is enough time to do so, will prove a significant test of Gibson’s coaching powers.
Having had a close look at the Proteas as part of the England coaching staff that faced them recently, Nosworthy feels will provide some valuable insight. “He’d be able to come in, assess what happened there, why it happened ... he has to talk to the players about it, think out of the box.”
Gibson held brief talks with Test captain Faf du Plessis in Manchester during the fourth Test of South Africa’s series with England. That was well before he’d been appointed but it would have been a useful ‘feeling out’ process for both men.
Communication between the two of them will be key. In the short term with those big series’ ahead, Gibson has to build confidence after a difficult tour of England.
“What do I look for in coach,” asked Kagiso Rabada, after being told of Gibson’s appointment? “Someone who understands the game; I’d like someone who can pass his learnings on to you, help you learn quickly and help the team to win trophies.
“I guess right now it it is a new beginning and it’s something you must be open minded about. I guess hearing what other people’s perception is about the game. I’ve not seen him play nor worked with him, though I hear he is nice to work with,” Rabada added.
The Test squad is expected to get together on September 22 to start preparations for that first Test with Bangladesh. It’s not a lot of time for Gibson to get his coaching house in order, but he has to use that time to ensure he makes a good first impression.