Steady hands: The calming influence of Proteas coach Ottis Gibson

Daniel Gallan says that there is no one better to guide the Proteas through the chaos of the World Cup than head coach Ottis Gibson.

FILE: Proteas head coach Ottis Gibson. Picture: AFP

LONDON - There’s something reassuring about Ottis Gibson. Maybe it’s the easy way the Proteas coach smiles. It could be his accent, evoking images of the sunsets and white beaches of his native Barbados. Perhaps it’s just the way he carries his hulking frame; with a calming grace that immediately puts you at ease when he’s in your company.

It’s hard to think of a better character to aid Faf du Plessis - an equally reassuring presence - in a tournament that has caused nothing but hysteria and panic down the years.

“We just have to turn up and give our best and if that’s not good enough, then it’s not good enough,” Gibson said after presiding over his side’s penultimate training session before the much-anticipated opening game of the Cricket World Cup against hosts England on Thursday.

It’s easy to be relaxed when expectations are low, but it is worth commending the way this captain-coach partnership have broadcast their message of contentment.

When Gibson was appointed in August 2017, replacing Russell Domingo who divided opinion and often looked out of his depth at the helm of a national side, the Proteas had been hammered 3-1 in a Test series in England before losing two of there three matches in the 2017 Champions Trophy, getting dumped out in the process.

Now the side is assured of itself. Gone are the insecurities of the past. Weaknesses - like those with the bat, especially in the lower order - are not ignored or brushed under the carpet but are acknowledged.

Strengths - like the impressive bowling arsenal, “one of the best in the world,” according to Gibson - are not treated with any more or less reverence than they deserve.

"We’re keeping it relaxed,” Gibson said. “The World Cup brings its own pressures. I’ve told the guys that when you take away that ‘WC’ this is just another cricket match and I’ve stressed the need to enjoy themselves and have fun out there.”

Whether this relaxed demeanour remains when that first ball is delivered on Thursday remains to be seen. England are not just hosts but favourites and have conveyed a near obsession with winning this tournament.

They have assembled a batting arsenal that looks best equipped to register the first ever ODI score of 500. What’s more, they’ll begin their quest against an attack deprived of its most senior figure.

“Dale Steyn is not quite ready and won’t take part,” Gibson said with a slightly less upbeat tone. “He’s not far away but with a six-week tournament, there is no need to force the issue.”

Gibson knows that the World Cup is a test of endurance. With the format the way it is, all ten teams will play each other once for the right to take part as one of four semifinalists. As such, the result of this opening game is not that important.

“We don’t mind if we’re not in the conversation now,” Gibson said. “All that matters is if we are in the mix in the latter stages. My good friends [Stuart] Broad and [James] Anderson [whom Gibson mentored in his previous role as England’s bowling coach] have said that something needs to go very wrong for England not to win the tournament. In their minds, England have already won it.”

Everywhere you look in and around the Kennington Oval in south London, you are reminded of what’s around the corner. A home World Cup for the spiritual godfathers of the cricketing world. The sense of anticipation of a maiden triumph. A multitude of journalists and fans and cameras and banners and noise; it has the feeling that a storm is about to break.

Standing amidst the chaos is one Barbadian, whose large frame sets him firm against the swirling winds and whose steady hands are guiding South Africa calmly into the maelstrom.