JOHANNESBURG – As a dramatic summer of South African cricket finally wrapped up, the Proteas coach and the departing Morné Morkel took their seats for the final press-call of the season.
For Morkel it was the final act, but Ottis Gibson and his easygoing demeanour are just getting comfortable.
“There is enough pressure on the cricket field, so in the dressing-room, it’s quite relaxed and enjoyable,” Gibson said of his working space.
“There is rum and coke on the table (but not at lunch-time!), there is music playing, and it’s quite a chilled-out place. If you guys were to come in, I am sure you would enjoy it – but you are not invited!”
The chuffed Gibson gave a quick glimpse into life in the Proteas camp, but even that brief reveal reiterated the point that many of his players have alluded to over a summer of heavyweight contests, but also a fair share of light-hearted moments away from the spotlight.
“Sometimes, as an overseas coach, when you come into a new environment, you don’t know how it’s going to go upfront. The way the guys welcomed me as a new person, you don’t feel like you are coming into an alien space,” he explained.
Gibson is a fanatical golfer and he would have found many like-minded men in the Proteas camp, all happy to chew the cricketing cud on manicured fairways.
Those moments away from the game have bonded the team, and it is no leap to suggest that the culture in the squad has given them even greater conviction on the field.
It is why Morkel left with a tinge of sadness, well aware that he leaves the team in a great place, where the collective compass has narrowed in on some pretty lofty goals.
After a bruising first summer on the job, Gibson did admit that it had been hard to play when so much of the focus had deviated from the game.
“It’s been disappointing that the cricket was never the real story. For a change, the last Test of the summer, it’s good that we are talking about cricket right now.
“The one thing that I try and do is keep the support staff focused on the cricket.
“It was a bit disappointing that after every game, the story was never about cricket. Then we always had to refocus the guys on the next game,” he said.
But Gibson has revelled in the new gig. Doubling up as bowling coach, he has formed some deep-seated bonds with his bowlers. Kagiso Rabada is a sponge around him, while Vernon Philander and the coach had a private goal set at the start of the summer.
Gibson explained that his “surgeon” with the new ball had hit that mark and then some.
Even beyond that, Gibson’s handling of Dale Steyn has been instructive. Gibson rates the veteran very highly, and Steyn has been a welcome presence around the squad for much of the summer.
He was a big part of the final days of Morkel’s career, management respectful of a bromance that is a decade and a thousand bowling miles in the making.
Those small touches have endeared Gibson to the group, but it is his cricketing nous that has convinced them he is the right man at the right time.
“I have enjoyed my first six months. It has been quite an experience,” he said. “We won eight out of 10 Test matches. We won two big series. The same way players set goals, so coaches set goals.
“The goal for the Test team was to get to number one in the world, and we know where we stand in that space.”
With that, Gibson stood up and left Morkel to his final plaudits.
There was rum and coke, and music, and a room full of merry men waiting for him in his working space.