To the Point
(with Steve Smith)
I interrupted my re-reading of Andre Agassi’s superb autobiography Open to accommodate Herschell Gibbs’ memoirs and have lived through a regretful week to write this review. To The Point is anything but that. It lacks the gravitas and candour that makes autobiographies meaningful; instead, it’s a quick-fix attempt at cashing in on the fading star value of a cricketer.
What’s with cricketers, I ask? Why can’t they be as candid as, say, tennis players like Agassi and John McEnore, whose ‘serious’ is a seriously good read? Why are there such few good autobiographies (though there are several excellent biographies), and hardly any from the modern era?
For a spell of time, I was an ardent fan of Herschelle Gibbs. Apart from being a free-stroking opening batsman with a wondrous range of shots who could win a match off his own bat, he was among the more colourful characters in the modern game, controversy and gossip dogging matching him run-for-run, as it were.
Despite having moved ahead considerably from its old hoity-toity culture, cricket remains too strait-laced and could do with more than just the odd maverick. Is there anybody today to match the panache of WG Grace who resembled a biblical patriarch and around whom the ‘romance of cricket’ finds its genesis? Or even the puckish Javed Miandad whose choice of bad words rolled of his lisp with a sense of timing that often had opponents rolling with laughter too?
But I am digressing. The point is that To The Point is disappointing and short sells the reader on almost every count. The language and style seem forced colloquial, but that can be rationalised. Ghosts will always have their limitations, and Steve Smith seems to be bereft of strong vocabulary and/or imagery.
Nevertheless, even such a situation can be redeemed if there is an interesting story to be told. And who would believe that Gibbs does not make a gripping subject? He was a major player in the match-fixing scam which broke in 2000, was the man who led South Africa’s charge in chasing down 434 runs against Australia in an ODI a few years ago, has been in and out of his national team, not always for reasons of form or fitness.
I was looking forward to an insider’s perspective on Hansie Cronje and match-fixing, or what goes into the mental make-up of a man who can play a blazing knock one day, and can transform himself into a stonewaller the next. What was it like growing up in a country where apartheid still existed till he was a teenager? What was the dressing room like when the South African government was forcing the cricket administration to include coloured players even if they were not as competent as white players?
These are all dealt with peripherally. The ‘no-holds barred’ approach which the front jacket boasts is largely restricted to Gibbs’s own struggle with alcoholism, his failed relationships, and some salacious bits about how some of the team’s he has been in have chased women or banned substances.
The latter part has cost Gibbs his central contract with the SA cricket board and obviously some old friends. Controversial aspects of his personal life could have earned him many more friends in replacement, but the Gibbs story comes across without pathos or good sense, rather a self-indulgent binge of booze and babes which begins to bore soon enough and becomes a tedium after he decides to do a rat-a-tat-tat recount of his career highlights.
(Ayaz Memon is a Mumbai-based sports writer)