Ottis Gibson did not take 9/11 for any of the dozen first-class teams he played for‚ but September 11 will loom as a significant day for him nonetheless. It is the scheduled end of England’s Test series against West Indies — and the last day of Gibson’s second tenure as England bowling coach.
His stint will end at Lord’s‚ where he helped engineer a crushing defeat of SA in June.
Then Gibson will prepare to take up his new position as SA’s head coach.
September 11 is next Monday. The first ball in SA’s new season will be bowled on September28.
Seventeen days is not a lot of time for Gibson to appoint assistants and get a grip on man-managing players who barely know who he is, much less what he is about as a coach.
It is a good thing‚ perhaps‚ that SA’s first engagement of the not-quite summer is against Bangladesh in Tests in Potchefstroom and Bloemfontein. That is about as far under the radar as international cricket goes. Far rather‚ for cricket-minded South Africans‚ that Gibson and his charges meet and greet in matches against minnows out in the sticks than under the glare of the spotlight that will be focused witheringly on this season’s tours by India and Australia.
The confirmation of Gibson’s appointment‚ the first whiff of which came in Manchester in August during the last Test of SA’s England tour‚ has prompted a procession of positive pronouncements by teammates in the Border‚ Gauteng and Griqualand West teams for which he played 33 matches from October 1992 to October 2000.
Stephen Jones‚ Gibson’s coach at Border‚ has less happy memories of the rawboned Bajan. "He used to practice hitting sixes by aiming at me on the bowling machine‚" Jones said on Monday.
And hit sixes Gibson did‚ not least in an unbeaten 83 for Border against Transvaal at the Wanderers in December 1992.
One of them arched high enough over long-on to put a dent in the roof of the Centenary Pavilion at the Golf Course End. By all accounts, it is still there.
Gibson began his onslaught after Border had crashed to 48/7 in reply to Transvaal’s first innings of 299.
"It was his way of avoiding the follow-on‚" Jones said.
In July 2007‚ after Durham had lost five wickets for 67 runs and were dismissed for a mediocre 252 in their first innings despite Dale Benkenstein scoring 114‚ Gibson took all 10 Hampshire wickets for 47.
Playing and coaching are vastly divergent disciplines, but there will be hope that Gibson has retained his knack for getting teams out of trouble.
SA‚ who fizzled and flopped in England‚ where they lost nine of their 13 games‚ might need some of that precious stuff when they face the rest of the cricket world’s big three in the coming months.