Batting lesson in two parts raises Gibbs to higher class

South African opener shows strength of character against England after poor form in one-day series
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The Independent Online

Unpalatable though it may have been for English eyes, Herschelle Gibbs gave an object lesson in the art of batting yesterday. In an innings of two parts, he first showed the discipline that is needed to play yourself back into form, before changing gear and giving a splendid exhibition of his own inimitable strokeplay.

Gibbs had a torrid time in the recent one-day series, but for a batsman of his class his best form is never going to be much more than one innings away. There is no more dedicated cricketer and before this match he spent a long time in the nets working at every aspect of his game.

At practice on Wednesday, his main preoccupation had been to make sure he knew precisely where his off stump was. This may seem simple stuff, but the art of leaving the ball alone is a most important tool in any batsman's kit, especially that of an opener. It is not easy to do when the ball is moving around - that phalanx of slips is waiting there for the batsman who does not leave the ball alone when he should.

There is nothing that frustrates an opening bowler more than to attack a batsman who is able with confidence to play no stroke at a ball that may be only an inch or two wide of the off stump. Gibbs will have maddened Darren Gough in his opening spell by doing just this. Gough's figures of 4-3-6-0 may seem good enough, but he will have been extremely irritated by the number of balls Gibbs was able to leave alone.

Few contemporary batsmen are as well versed in this particular art as Gibbs. There are any number of openers around the world who would have been playing at many of these deliveries and who would have lost their wickets as a result. Right-handers find it harder to master this than their cack-handed brethren who almost invariably find the ball slanting across them.

The Indian, Sunil Gavaskar, the West Indian, Desmond Haynes, and, of course, Geoffrey Boycott were other right-handers who were also past masters at knowing when not to play a stroke. Mark Taylor, who was Steve Waugh's predecessor as captain of Australia, and his predecessor, Allan Border, and the former England opener, John Edrich, were three others who knew the width of their stumps to the nearest millimetre, but they were all left-handers.

The ability to leave the right ball alone must be part of the technique of the best opening batsman. It is an attribute that also allows a batsman to grab the initiative from the bowling side. This was starkly apparent in the first session here when, with the exception of James Anderson who showed his lack of experience and also of recent cricket, England did not bowl badly without being able to find the answer to Gibbs's superior technique. Gibbs then stayed on in order to cash in.

This was also an innings of great character, for Gibbs's know-how enabled him to use a crucially important Test innings to play himself back into form. It was too, a selfless innings for it was exactly what his side needed from him.

In looking after himself he was looking after the team's interests as well.