South Africans who have been following local cricket for a while will remember new Proteas coach Ottis Gibson well from his spells playing for Border, Griqualand West and Gauteng between 1992 and 2001. But it also means Gibson knows South African cricket well.
Those were the years when the local game started grappling with transformation and, even though Cricket South Africa’s approach has become more consistent and clear, the need to redress the inequities of the past still remains. But the time the West Indian previously spent in South African cricket means he is well aware of the issues.
“When Cricket SA did their search for a new coach, it was in my favour that I spent six years in the country in the ’90s and I have many friends from that time, and they give you perspective on the country,” Gibson said.
“So I’m aware of the transformation issues, certainly in terms of picking black players. That process was in place before I got here, it’s been happening already and we’ll continue on that path. There’s no real need for me to get into discussions about it.”
The former England bowling coach – he had two stints with the economic powerhouses, between 2007 and 2010 and then again from 2015 – is also clear about the talent that will be at his disposal in South African cricket.
“From my six years of playing in South Africa, I know that it’s a sports-mad country and there is so much talent here. Guys like Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Hashim Amla, JP Duminy and AB de Villiers have done unbelievable things.
“Aiden Markram didn’t play against England, but I’d heard a lot of good things. Kagiso Rabada is an outstanding talent and England really respected Temba Bavuma for his technique and the way he fought in what Alastair Cook said were some of the toughest conditions he had ever played in. With the next World Cup in mind, I believe we have the opportunity to do something special,” said Gibson, who is married with one child.
While Gibson was the head coach of the West Indies, between 2010 and 2014, he won the ICC World T20.
The 48-year-old has stated his intent to also “do something special” with the Proteas and he has not fallen into the trap of coming in and dictating terms to his new side who, as he pointed out, know what it takes to be the number one team in the world because they’ve been there before.
Instead, Gibson has said his first few weeks will be spent observing how the Proteas go about their business.
The only major impacts he has had so far were to insist the whole squad all played in the first round of the Sunfoil Series, then giving them a day off training thereafter, and some fresh ideas he has brought to the bowling unit.
Those ideas clicked during the first Test against Bangladesh. The Proteas have clearly found a coach who, having played first-class cricket for 16 seasons in the West Indies, South Africa and England, will have empathy for the players.
Gibson knows they will have bad days when they fall well short of their potential.
“It’s not the end of the world if you get outplayed, as long as you did what you set out to do. When you win, the players get the credit, but when you lose, the coach is in the spotlight.
“I’m a fun-loving guy, I especially love golf; but I can be very grumpy, I won’t lie, sometimes when we lose.”
The golf swing must be something to behold because Gibson entered South African cricketing lore with his six-hitting exploits, most famously when he dented the roof of the Centenary Pavilion at the Wanderers.
He is also one of the few bowlers to take all 10 wickets in an innings, doing it for Durham against Hampshire in 2007. Given his lower-order hitting ability and his fast but economic bowling, it was no surprise that he played ODI cricket for the West Indies.
What was surprising was that he only played 15 limited-overs games for them and just two Tests.