Proteas coach Ottis Gibson still has to prove his worth to local cricket fans. Photo: Aubrey Kgakatsi/BackpagePix
They say you can judge a man by the company that he keeps. Most South African cricket fans still don’t know too much about Proteas’ coach Ottis Gibson besides the fact that he is West Indian, played here for a while, won a T20 World Cup, and comes highly rated by his English employers.

That alone was enough to convince Cricket South Africa that he was the man to turn the World Cup dream into 2019 reality.

Indeed, the cricketing CV of the man from Barbados speaks of a meticulous operator, who respects those around him as much as the history of a game that has taken him around the world.

But that still leaves a lot of people wondering just what kind of man he is.

Bangladesh were no test, because they simply rolled over and asked to be tickled for a month and a half.

We learnt nothing about the players or Gibson under pressure because the Tigers from Dhaka played as if they couldn’t spell it - never mind exert it on a confident team playing to impress a new regime.

Zimbabwe in the day-night Test will be as much an examination of St George’s Park’s new lights as it will be a cricket contest. The cold truth is that though South Africa and Zimbabwe are neighbours, in cricketing geography, the Proteas’ Clifton beach is a world away from Zimbabwe’s dishevelled public pool.

That is no fault of Zimbabwean cricket, but rather a sign of the times we live in. The rich are getting richer and the poorer are struggling to even host a single international match.

All you can do is wish a neighbour well, and hope that the conviction of their army in recent times can somehow trickle down to their cricket structures.

But, where does that leave us with Mr Gibson?

His most significant action to date has been deciding his back-room staff, which he revealed to us this week.

If a man is to be judged by the company he keeps, then the portents of Gibson are rather promising.

Go around domestic circles and there is not a bad word to be said about his assistant coach, Malibongwe Maketa, who is regarded as one of the finest cricket brains in the country.

Nip over to the UK and from Chester-Le-Street down to Southampton they rave about the determination and dedication of one Dale Benkenstein, the new batting coach.

Gibson was adamant that he needed the services of a dedicated fielding coach, and Justin Ontong is regarded as one of the best ever, even in his advancing years.

Claude Henderson survived the cull, because his work with Keshav Maharaj, in particular, is bearing considerable fruit.

Of course, there were dissenting voices about Gibson’s appointments.

There had to be.

It was rather revealing that most of the “noise” came from disenfranchised former players with an inflated opinions of their own abilities for the jobs that were on offer.

They were the musings of men who have burnt as many bridges as they have double-crossed, as they continued their eternal clutching for relevance in a game that moves inexorably forward.

They were mutterings to be taken with an unhealthy pinch of salt.

Gibson’s support staff has local knowledge, worldly experience and that vital ingredient at the sharp end of competition - perspective.

On their individual journeys, Gibson’s appointments have met delight and despair in the game, and learnt to accept both with a measured smile or shrug.

They know that life doesn’t end with one defeat, just as one notable triumph doesn’t change the world.

They are, one would say, “nice blokes”. But that is not to say they are pushovers. Far from it, in fact, because the determination to win rages fiercely in each of them. And over the next 18 months, they will be out to prove that nice guys can come first, too.


Sunday Tribune

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