South Africa have a comfortable lead atop the ICC Test standings, but their ODI form has been patchier. The Proteas lie fifth in the ODI table and go into the three-match series against India, having suffered an embarrassing home-series loss to Pakistan.
Former opener Herschelle Gibbs — who played 90 Tests, 248 ODIs and scored over 14,000 runs in a colourful, often controversial, 14-year international career — feels batting is the weak link, and said the return of Kallis, after a year and nine months out, has not helped matters.
“We beat Pakistan in Abu Dhabi 4-1 without (Graeme) Smith and Kallis in November. Now, Pakistan beat us at home with Smith and Kallis back,” the 39-year-old told HT from Cape Town.
Kallis returned for the ODI series against Pakistan after missing 29 straight ODIs including pulling out of the ICC Champions Trophy a day before the squad was announced citing ‘personal reasons’.
“The top six is the major concern. It looks unsettled. There are plenty of options in bowling, both spin and pace. Even the all-rounders have done well. With the 2015 World Cup in mind the team is moving in the right direction. If they sort out the batting order they could go in as favourites,” said Gibbs.
Speaking in his distinctive Afrikaans accent with the trademark guttural intonation, Gibbs talked about his commentary debut, the most successful sporting week of his career (no, it wasn’t on a cricket field), the Indian cricketer who could empty a beer barrel and this month’s tour. Excerpts
One of the most inexperienced Indian sides to ever tour South Africa. MS Dhoni and Zaheer Khan are the only players in their 30s. Boon or bane?
It could work both ways. They may not have played Tests abroad, but they’ve played lots of ODIs and performed really well. Virat Kohli and Rohit Sharma were excellent against the Aussies recently. But playing Tests in South Africa is a completely different deal. Let’s see how it goes.
One man who knows the conditions well is India’s coach Duncan Fletcher...
Fletch knows the ins and outs of cricket in South Africa. Knowing him, I’m sure he’s got his plans in place and all the bases covered. It’s up to the players to execute it.
When India tour abroad the question of pitches comes in. The Kingsmead track in Durban brings back horror memories of the 1996 match. What should India expect in the Test there?
The pitch doesn’t have the same bite anymore. In fact, it favours spinners more. A Sri Lankan spinner (Rangana Herath) took 10-wickets there a few seasons ago. Even the Wanderers (venue of first Test) has a great surface for batting. Mental demons aside, the pitches shouldn’t pose a problem.
You played alongside Rohit Sharma in the IPL. Your take on his progress…
I’ve always maintained he’s one of the most pleasing players to watch. Even when he was 20 he could play all the shots. Now, I feel he understands his game better. He’s also become remarkably fit, compared to the time when I played with him at the Deccan Chargers.
Back then Rohit enjoyed his drink. You have also been known to hold your liquor well. Andrew Symonds was also part of that Chargers team. Were there ever any beer-drinking contests?
(Laughs) I think Rohit could probably outdrink the two of us combined (laughs). No, I think he’s a very level-headed bloke. He’s a focused guy. I think if you look at his fitness it’s pretty evident that he’s cut down on the intake.
Against Pakistan, you made your commentary debut. Bill Lawry has the patented “It’s all over at the SCG”, Ravi Shastri has “that one went like a tracer bullet”. Any lines to call your own?
No. I’m still getting the hang of it. Since I’ve been a teenager I’ve always been on the field, being on the other side is a new experience. I’m hoping to pick up more things as I spend time in the commentary booth. The India series should be good on that front.
Navjot Singh Sidhu will also be there...
(Laughs) Actually, Sidhu has a great vocabulary. I’m sure he’ll be a fun guy to work with.
You recently played golf at the Gary Player Invitational (GPI)...
Golf is great. My handicap is down to six. The GPI was a fun experience. Played cricket for 14 years and didn’t win a trophy. Won two trophies in 4 days playing golf!