Herschelle Gibbs celebrates with fans after masterminding South Africa's astounding chase
© Getty Images


'That was my only bloody wish, to win a World Cup'

Herschelle Gibbs on that 1999 semi-final, thriving under pressure, and living like he played - hard

Interview by Vishal Dikshit  |  

The 438 ODI was an unbelievable spectacle for the sport. It was nice that we ended up winning, but it didn't really make a difference that we actually won. The game was special because of the chase. I doubt we'll see another game like it for the rest of our lives.

The 1999 World Cup was my favourite. My first one was the one I enjoyed the most. Obviously, tying the semi-final was not a nice pill to swallow.

The back-foot drive over cover or extra cover - I played that on instinct. I played that when I was 19 or 20. Desmond Haynes came to the [Cape] Cobras - it was called Western Province then - in 1991-92 and he was there for two years. We were playing one day-night game and I hit one off Lance Klusener, and Desmond said that was the best shot he had seen.

Myself and Brendon McCullum used to run at the fast bowlers. You don't see that anymore, so batsmen are just allowing the fast bowlers to bowl at them without even making them think differently.

AB de Villiers improvises and gets into different positions a lot quicker. Like when he wants to play into the leg side, he'd step onto the off stump or just outside off stump and work the ball around.

I've got no regrets.

People talk about the catch [dropping Steve Waugh in the 1999 World Cup group game]. The problem was that it was too easy. People always ask me about that catch, but there's nothing you can do.

Bob Woolmer drilled us quite hard when it came to fielding. There was always unbelievable intensity when he practiced our fielding. We had guys like Gary Kirsten, Dale Benkenstein, Nicky Boje, Justin Ontong - guys who were exceptionally quick. We always tried to outdo one another, so the standard was always high and people used to watch us field. Batsmen had no chance taking quick singles.

"In your twenties you must be an absolute animal, do everything you're not supposed to do. You must destroy everything you can. Live it hard"

That was my only bloody wish, to win a World Cup.

Hansie [Cronje] is the last person I would think about. I know some of the older guys, like Pat Symcox, will post something on Instagram when it's Hansie's birthday. I wasn't close to Hansie. He was my captain for a couple of years and I didn't really see him after he got banned.

If you're in your twenties, I always told all my mates, they must do everything they want to do. Make as many mistakes, because that's when you learn about the person that you are. By the time you get to your thirties, you understand the kind of person you are and the person you would like to be. But in your twenties you must be an absolute animal, do everything you're not supposed to do. You must destroy everything you can. Live it hard. Like I did.

I was like [Virender] Sehwag, an instinctive player - don't think, just play as you go.

Steve Waugh never would have said it. I think he said it tongue-in-cheek maybe at the press conference of the game. He wouldn't have said it on the field, he respects the game too much. But it was an unbelievable knock from him.

There are teams now that will get to 450 in an ODI, but that's not the point. How many teams can get to 400 batting second, that is the key.

I'm still very fit, I still party hard.

Me being the sort of personality that I was, Graeme [Smith] couldn't control me like the rest of the guys.

"Hansie was definitely the best captain I played under. He was an inspiration. Everybody that played under him never questioned anything he wanted and never asked why" © Getty Images

1999 was probably our best chance of winning a World Cup and we only had ourselves to blame. I don't know [why we can't cross the hurdle in the knockouts], maybe the guys don't enjoy the pressure.

There's no blueprint when it comes to how you must live your life.

With Jonty [Rhodes] being Jonty, he set the standard and we thrived off his energy and him being in the field. It was always just unbelievable intensity, and you don't see that anymore. Jonty was on the off side, I was on the leg side, not many singles around those days.

I just want to do T20 as a coach. I've done T10 also. I'm still new and growing the CV slowly but surely and just working my way up into the bigger league.

The editor of the Red Bull magazine in South Africa did an interview with me for GQ magazine and people really liked what I said in that interview, that's how the whole idea of my book came along. It's nothing to do about life. People loved the honesty in the book and it's not just cricket in the book. We had a lot of interesting times off the field, that's why it sold.

I was the only guy who got a hundred for South Africa in the 1999 World Cup, the youngest batsman then. I should have got two, another one against New Zealand.

The amount of sixes has increased every IPL, and it's all to do with length.

I started playing first-class cricket at 16, the other guys were a lot older than me so I was exposed to the good times at an early age. And I never restricted myself from doing it.

Look at why Australia have won World Cups - they got a lot of hundreds in World Cups but not so much us. It's about performing on the big stage and enjoying that moment.

"Until you get your first hundred, you doubt your ability and you don't have that self-belief. That hundred changes everything"

You don't only want to see intensity in fielding in T20s, you want to see it in 50-over and Test cricket.

I lost my contract after that book, but there was nothing in the book that justified me losing my contract. I still wanted to play in the 2011 World Cup, and if I didn't want to play, I could have said things a lot worse than I said in the book.

I had one cricket career and I had, still have, one life. While I was playing professionally, I wasn't going to restrict myself from living the life, and I still don't.

Hansie was definitely the best captain I played under. He was an inspiration. Everybody that played under him never questioned anything he wanted and never asked why. They'd run through a brick wall for him. The guys loved him. He was also without cliques. Everybody got along with no egos and the guys were always fit and hungry. And they got along like a house on fire.

The Indian fielding has improved hugely over the last ten years, and it's a lot to do with mindset and diets. The guys are a lot fitter now.

I'm very proud of my World Cup record and my Champions Trophy record. AB averages 60-odd in World Cups but he only averages 30 [33] in Champions Trophy. I'm averaging almost 60 in World Cups [56] and Champions Trophy [51].

One day I'd like to see a bowler bowling 12-13 or even more yorkers in his four overs [in a T20].

I had Duncan Fletcher as a coach for a couple of years at the Cobras and he used to say, "you should play it as you see it."

"Me being the sort of personality that I was, Graeme Smith couldn't control me like the rest of the guys." © AFP

A lot of my former team-mates are still close buddies with each other, not so much with me. I've got a lot of other buddies.

There are very few batters who can hit the low full toss for six.

You always need luck in sport. Even if you look back at South Africa's first ball of the 1992 World Cup, against Australia, Geoff Marsh nicked it, [the keeper] took it in front of first slip and the umpire gave him not out. We just haven't had luck go our way since then.

The great batsmen were able to improvise and play shots according to whatever wicket they were playing on.

In the 2015 World Cup semi-final, we dropped three chances. People always remind me of that [dropping Waugh in the 1999 World Cup], but people don't remember the three dropped catches in the 2015 World Cup semi-final.

I can run around like a 25-year-old if I have to.

Four years ago I got the itch to play again. I went to the CEO of the Cobras and I met with Ashwell [Prince]. So we had the meeting, and the CEO says, "Okay, fine, it's a no-brainer and we'd like to have you back. I will have an answer for you in three weeks' time." It's now 2020 and he never got back.

In T20, the guys who make good scores, it's just good cricket shots. It's not like every other ball is a different shot.

"I didn't like sitting around and waiting. I was very nervous before I went to bat, like sometimes you want to vomit, that sort of feeling"

The bowlers need to change their mindset about taking away batters' length in T20s. And they have to try at least two yorkers an over, whether they go wide or whether they go straight. The bowlers go for the easy option - they go for the change-up than for the yorker. If the batsman is standing still for a change-up and it's a length ball, it's going for six.

Maybe the [South African] players don't like the pressure. I'm not going to sit here and deny it, there are guys that like it, there are guys that don't. And a lot of big players don't like pressure, they go diving for cover. I don't want to mention any names. I don't need to because their records say enough. Test cricket is a different story.

It's quite a clique environment in the coaching industry. A lot of the head coaches around the world look after their friends, they get their friends into the system. That's interesting, something I've noticed. A lot of them won't tell you that but it's quite easy to see.

Until such time that South Africa end up winning an ICC tournament, people will always question our ability under pressure and that's the bottom-line. It's how you play under pressure.

I lost 10kg in three months [in 2017]. I wanted to get down to the weight that I was when I was still playing.

I stopped playing in 2013. The CPL was my last professional league. I was mentally tired, I had had enough, I was completely knackered because I had been playing non-stop for 25 years. I was finished.

T10 is another format but you've still got to be able to make the adjustments. It's ten overs but for batters it's 60 balls - it's a lot. Jonny Bairstow came in there late in the tournament and he got the highest score there just by playing good cricket shots.

"A lot of my former team-mates are still close buddies with each other, not so much with me. I've got a lot of other buddies" © Getty Images

I don't know how you instil [the ability to deal with] pressure - you either want to do it or you don't. First and foremost, you see the sort of people that win you domestic trophies. Nowadays the international players don't play enough domestic cricket. But you grow up with it, it's about experience, and by the time you get to international cricket, you should have that mentality.

You have to be able to play the short ball well as a top-order batsman. It's your duty or your bread and butter to face quick stuff.

South Africa don't have left-arm bowlers and it's unbelievable that we haven't developed three left-arm bowlers you can think of. It's sad that we have got a lot of fast bowlers but they're all right-arm bowlers. How are you going to win a World Cup without a left-arm bowler? Every team has won a World Cup when they have a left-arm bowler. Maybe the [1999] Steve Waugh team was a special team.

Ultimately, in one-dayers, the whole idea was for batsmen to not let the bowlers settle - you just want to keep them thinking and that just depends on the repertoire of shots and how many shots you actually feel you need to play.

Until you get your first hundred, you always have that question. You doubt your ability and you don't have that self-belief until that hundred. It changes everything. You feel you belong in this environment and stage.

South African players in the 1990s were so deprived of playing international cricket for so long, so they gave their everything. Some of them realised they were nearing the end of their careers.

I started out at No. 6 and then the Cobras pushed me up to open. I had to make the adjustment. It was good because I also didn't like sitting around and waiting. I was very nervous before I went to bat, like sometimes you want to vomit, that sort of feeling. I could play with complete freedom and play as you see it.

Vishal Dikshit is a senior sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo