AB de Villiers is the big thing for new coach Ottis
Star batsman's return coincides with Gibson taking over
Ottis Gibson's tumultuous time as coach of the West Indies will stand him in good stead when he takes over the Proteas.
For him tiptoeing through potential minefields and digging into the trenches would have steeled him for his latest challenge.
The 48-year-old's first order of business will be to bring back into orbit the Proteas' brightest star following a spell in self-imposed exile. AB de Villiers' fitness has held him back but he has also developed an appetite for distant galaxies and Gibson will have to determine whether the star batsman can again shine with the blinding illumination he used to.
Trust with the public has to be restored, but the dynamic that will interest Gibson most is how the dressing room will react once De Villiers makes his expected return for the series against Bangladesh later this month. De Villiers says he is again ready to play across all three formats for the Proteas, but only time will tell if he's playing it straight.
Gibson knows a few things about dressing room politics. When he was coach of the West Indies he didn't back down in the face of player power, perhaps exemplified by the petulance of mega-batter Chris Gayle. The big-hitting opener found himself in the international wilderness for a year-and-a-half and it reportedly required the intervention of two prime ministers before Gayle could return. Gibson didn't take prisoners.
What level of support he will get from his new employers remains to be seen as his contract is relatively short by international standards. It expires at the end of the 2019 World Cup. His primary task ostensibly is to capture silverware.
That Gibson is tooled for the task is beyond question for Mike Doherty, who was Griquas' president when the Bajan played for the province between 1998 and 2000.There is a caveat.
"I think he will do well if he gets the support of the board," said Doherty.
"He must be given some leash," advised Ken Rutherford, who as director of cricket at Gauteng helped smooth Gibson's transition from the diamond fields to the City of Gold.
"I think it is a really good appointment. Ottis has a really good sense of authority about him. He's naturally got that. We got him to play for one season and he had good ideas and theories that were beneficial," said the former New Zealand and Gauteng skipper, Rutherford.
"He's got a sharp cricketing mind and although he gives you the impression he is a very casual guy, he's very determined," continued Doherty."I'm glad he's taken the job. The South African team needs new blood. Either your coach or your captain has to be a strong character. Not both," Doherty said before recalling the combustible partnership Ray Jennings and Graeme Smith brought to the Proteas' set-up.
"I think he will get on just fine with Faf [du Plessis], but he will undoubtedly face challenges," warned Doherty.
Rutherford pointed to where he believes Gibson's real value resides. "He circumnavigates different cultures and thought processes. And that goes for more than just race. He is above that. He's a proud guy, he's done the hard yards, has great credentials and deserves the job."
Those credentials would have been hard wired during an enduring first-class career.
He may only have played against Gibson once or twice, but Rutherford recalled what made Gibson a fierce competitor.
"I know this is quite a rank thing to recall, but Ottis had a great wrist. When I faced him that was the thing that struck me. You just got the sense that he's a real technician, which is rare for West Indian bowlers who tended to run in and try and bowl as quickly as possible."
Apart from Gibson's bowling, Doherty remembered his swashbuckling wielding of the bat. "Craig Matthews once told me how his hands stung after fielding a shot from Ottis. He was fielding at long off, for goodness sake.
Hit the s$#t out of them
"Against Transvaal one time, we were chasing 13 an over with about 10 to go, and we won it with two overs to spare because Ottis hit the s$#t out of them."
Doherty almost got nostalgic when he recalled the time the allrounder plied his trade at the second of the three provinces he played for in South Africa.
"We had Kepler [Wessels], [Pat] Symcox, Mickey [Arthur], we had a bloody good side. Ottis played an integral part. He was a big player."In fact, Gibson's impact was such that he made a return to test cricket having previously played a solitary test at Lord's in 1995.
"He was playing for us when one of their players broke down and he was recalled to play at Newlands," Doherty said of the 1999 test which happened to be Gibson's last.
Whether Gibson has made a greater impact as coach is debatable.
Two stints as England's bowling coach has helped transform their bowling fortunes. Their resources don't stop at Stuart Broad and James Anderson.
It was, however, his time in the employ of the notoriously fractious West Indies Board of Control that would have steeled him best for his return to South Africa. Winning the T20 World Cup in 2012 was an undoubted highlight but the West Indies performances under him in tests remained modest.
His true value was almost always felt keener elsewhere.
"The appointment is a real stamp of approval for Ottis," said Rutherford.
"I think South Africa is always going to be there or thereabouts, but there is a rawness about the team. Ottis might be the guy to bring it all together."