Ottis Gibson. Picture: REUTERS
Ottis Gibson. Picture: REUTERS

Ottis Gibson could be on his way back to England‚ regardless of whether he guides SA to World Cup glory.

If he goes‚ Cricket SA and its  strange approach to human relations would struggle to avoid being slapped with at least some of the blame.

The UK Sunday Times reports that Gibson is “keen to replace Trevor Bayliss” as England coach when the Australian’s contract expires in September.

“It transpires that Bayliss has turned down several requests from the ECB [England Cricket Board] to carry on beyond his planned departure date‚” wrote cricket correspondent Simon Wilde.  “Gibson … is understood to be keen on returning to the England set-up.”

The theory was promptly denied by SA’s team management: “Ottis hasn’t spoken to anyone at the ECB or anywhere else. He doesn’t know where this is coming from.”

But if Gibson does have designs on leaving‚ Cricket SA would‚ not for the first time‚ have tough questions to answer about how it treats people.

“When the board hired Ottis it was purely to win the World Cup,” Cricket SA CEO Thabang Moroe told reporters in Johannesburg last month. “As it stands his contract states he has to win the World Cup.”

The World Cup will take place in England from May to July.

So who could blame Gibson if he has put out feelers‚ even though Moroe followed up his comment with, “I’ve been happy with what he has done” for SA.

“I have had a few phone calls encouraging me to speak to the board to see if they haven’t changed their mind‚” Moroe said.

If some of that sounds familiar it’s because Cricket SA announced it was  in the market for a replacement for Gibson’s predecessor‚ Russell Domingo‚ on January 28 2017 — the day of a one-day international in Port Elizabeth‚ Domingo’s hometown‚ and seven months before his contract ran out.

Three weeks before Cricket SA announced Gibson’s appointment‚ Domingo said he was still in the dark about his future.

Gibson‚ whose current deal with Cricket SA will be void after the World Cup‚ has been SA’s coach since September 2017. He has taken them to 34 victories in 51 matches‚ winning 11 of 15 Tests‚ 15 of 25 one-day internationals and eight of 11 T20s.

More importantly‚ he has forged what appears to be a firm bond with all-format captain Faf du Plessis‚ created a noticeably more relaxed dressing-room environment and demonstrated a firm understanding of the importance of fast bowling to SA’s cause.

The notion that England would welcome Gibson is helped by the fact that he has had two stints as their bowling coach. It is from that position that he was recruited as SA’s head coach‚ which was confirmed in the afterglow of England’s 3-1 win in the 2017 Test series between the teams.

Now‚ with England having been smashed by 381 runs and 10 wickets in the first two Tests of their West Indies tour‚ the pressure on the ECB to make changes is mounting.

Gibson was considered a valuable asset when he left England‚ and there is every reason to believe there will be enthusiasm for efforts to engineer his return. 

Whether Cricket SA would realise that is happening‚ never mind see fit to try to head the ECB off at the pass‚ is less certain. Even if Cricket SA does try to hang on to Gibson, the ECB has  plenty of pounds to pitch at poaching him.

But World Cup glory cannot be bought‚ not even with hard currency. If Gibson wins it he will be the richest man in cricket by any measure. South Africans will hope that is enough to keep him.