June 7, 2010

A good bloke on a doomed ship

Andrew Hudson is likely be a conservative convenor of selectors. But will he be able to handle the madness and bad press that come with the job?

To hear some tell it, Andrew Hudson has launched a doomed boat on the River Styx, tethered himself to a line of sane men driven dilly, and been cast in a Coen Brothers dark comedy. The mad mists that swirl around the unfortunates who agree to convene South Africa's selection committee can only do him a dastardly nasty, they say.

Hudson has been in the Caribbean with the South African team since the early days of their West Indies tour, but his tenure began officially on June 1. His days of solid good sense are therefore numbered. And so say all of them.

They have plenty of evidence to go on. Omar Henry, for instance, was a respected figure in the game in South Africa before he became selection convenor. But once his grasp on the poisoned chalice firmed, Henry's explanations for his decisions degenerated into desperate floundering about in murky verbal puddles he was never able to wade out of.

Haroon Lorgat seemed to escape the clutches of the wretched job with his senses intact. Or perhaps not. He did, after all, pull up a chair at the Mad Hatter's tea party that is the ICC. The nondescript Joubert Strydom was no match for then-Cricket South Africa president Norman Arendse and his uber personality. Mike Procter and his entire committee woke up one fine morning to the news that they had been sacked. Not long before, they had drawn up the blueprint for South Africa's only Test series win in Australia.

So Hudson has been forewarned. But for now he remains a bloody good bloke. Rarely, if ever, has a crooked word been cast in his direction. None of which will mean a thing when the hordes line up to take a swing at him. And, as sure as Lalit Modi speaks with a lisp, they will.

An opening batsman in almost all of his 35 Tests and 89 one-day internationals, Hudson defied his thoroughly orthodox technique and temperament, and wielded his bat like a light sabre. His cover drive, in particular, was a bejewelled stroke.

In 1992, many younger South Africans were trying to get their heads around the idea that a cricket match could last five days. That one of their own could score 163 in conditions that were as foreign as those on the back of the moon further boggled their minds. Hudson did just that in the uncharted wilds of Barbados, in South Africa's first Test after 22 years of isolation. He was bowled by Kenny Benjamin on the third day after spending almost nine hours at the crease.

A press conference duly followed. This reporter and Geoffrey Dean, then of London's Daily Telegraph, were fighting off the deadline dragon at the time and we missed it. So, after the close, we tried our luck and knocked on the dressing-room door. You might think anyone who has come within spitting distance of a double-century against an attack studded with Curtly Ambrose and Courtney Walsh would want to talk about his innings forever. You would be wrong. Cricketers aren't made that way.

Happily for Dean and I, Hudson is human first and a cricketer second. So he hobbled onto the stairs to the dressing room - a ball from Patrick Patterson had nailed him behind the knee - and had a jolly good natter answering again all the questions he had answered not long before. He did so with humility and without smugness.

Hudson is a solid Cricket South Africa company man, having chaired the cricket committee and served on the franchise review committee. Crucially, he is on the same page as Gerald Majola. That means he is firmly in the transformation camp. As such, Hudson is unlikely to become embroiled in the kind of acrimony that flew between senior administrators during the Arendse era

But however memorable Hudson could be at the crease and in the corridors, he was and is an un-flashy man who talks in straight sentences, and who forged his own way in the real world of banking after retiring from the unreality of playing cricket for a living.

Procter was a maverick who cast his line into South Africa's sea of talent and reeled in fine fish like JP Duminy, Wayne Parnell and Roelof van der Merwe. It's doubtful whether any of his predecessors would have acted similarly.

By contrast, Hudson's tenure could well be marked by a return to the pre-Procter era of conservative selectorial thinking. He has made his views plain on Graeme Smith's future as captain in the wake of another fine mess South Africa got themselves into at this year's World Twenty20, saying that a change in leadership with the 2011 World Cup looming was not an option. Hudson is a solid Cricket South Africa company man, having chaired the cricket committee and served on the franchise review committee.

Crucially, he is on the same page as CSA chief executive Gerald Majola. That means he is firmly in the transformation camp. As such, Hudson is unlikely to become embroiled in the kind of acrimony that flew between senior administrators during the Arendse era. The committee Hudson will convene is essentially a corporate entity. Proteas coach Corrie van Zyl and Shafiek Abrahams, a coach at the high-performance centre, are on board, and Smith will have his say about the final XI. The composition of the committee will be reviewed annually. Gone are the days, it seems, of the independent observer trawling far-flung, desolate grounds, armed with shooting stick, binoculars, notebook and pen.

So there is something apposite about Hudson, who has the outlook and even the look of the expert amateur, heading what amounts to a professional structure. "Cricket has been a big part of my life, and this is an opportunity that shouldn't be missed," he said. "I want the best for South African cricket."

Those are deceptively simple statements. But just like a book shouldn't be judged by its cover, so a man shouldn't be judged by his cover drive. It might look like an emphatic swoop of the bat and little else, but - as anyone who has nicked a half-volley to second slip in the grand manner will attest - it damn well is not.

There is a lot more to Andrew Hudson than a flashy stroke. Expect him to give all of himself that he can afford, thoughtfully and diligently, to South African cricket. And, more importantly, to remain the decent fella he is now.

Telford Vice is a freelance cricket writer in South Africa

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