Topping the list of Wisden’s ODI innings of the 2000s is Herschelle Gibbs’ match-winning 175 in South Africa’s record-breaking win over Australia in 2006.
Herschelle Gibbs 175 (111 balls)
South Africa v Australia, 5th ODI
The Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg
March 12, 2006
Despite his 35 international hundreds, it’s the background noise that comes to mind when you think of Herschelle Gibbs. Sex, booze and drugs helped cultivate a bad-boy image, while his involvement in the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal and labelling of Pakistani fans as “animals” showcased a far more iniquitous edge.
It’s of little surprise then that his finest hour was preceded by some off-field debauchery. “The day before the famous 438 ODI game against Australia at the Wanderers in 2006, I got totally wasted,” Gibbs wrote in To the Point, his autobiography. The drinking went late into the night, so a cocktail of Red Bull and painkillers came in handy in the morning, as did Australia’s decision to bat first in the series decider.
But the hangover had to endure much more, with Ricky Ponting’s 164 from 105 balls leading Australia to a world-record total of 434-4. The South Africans walked off at the halfway stage distraught, but the ice was broken in a sombre dressing room by Jacques Kallis who proclaimed that the Australians were actually 15 runs short. Thoughts turned to how a miracle could be pulled off, with the short boundaries at The Wanderers offering some hope. Another plus point was the state of Gibbs; 50 overs in the field had given him some time to recover: “The upside was that I was beginning to feel like my old self again.”
The early loss of Boeta Dippenaar for 1 brought Gibbs to the crease and so began an innings that showed just what a gifted batsman he was, regardless of his frailties elsewhere. To begin with, the swing of the bat seemed almost too hell-for-leather, but controlled aggression soon took hold, demonstrated through Gibbs’ affinity for going up and over extra cover.
Alongside Graeme Smith, he put on 187 in just 20.5 overs, but the captain’s departure only seemed to gee up Gibbs; from the first ball after Smith’s dismissal, he swept Michael Clarke for six over square leg. “I just kept on going, still with the taste of Chardonnay in my mouth,” Gibbs later told Wisden Cricket Monthly.
His century arrived from just 79 balls, and 21 balls later he was up to 150, rocking back to wallop poor Mick Lewis over deep midwicket for another six. The ridiculousness of the innings was aptly summed up by Gibbs’ next boundary, off the bowling of Andrew Symonds. With Gibbs having shifted across to the leg side, Symonds fired in the ball full and wide to leave the batsman reaching for it. His bat somehow found an edge for four, and the momentum of his shot forced him into a 360-degree turn that left the late Tony Greig chuckling up in the commentary box. “Well, when luck’s on your side, ride it,” announced the former England captain.
Gibbs’ tour de force came to its conclusion two overs later, with South Africa still needing 136 from 109 balls, but Mark Boucher’s half-century sealed victory with a ball to spare, sparking emotional scenes. It wouldn’t have been possible without the freewheeling Gibbs, his blade personally responsible for 21 fours and seven sixes.
According to Gibbs, South Africa head coach Mickey Arthur had been made aware of what he’d got up to prior to the match, but all was forgiven in the aftermath. “Mickey actually said to me, ‘Hersch, I was going to give you the biggest lecture of your life, but now, how can I?’”