May 15, 2002

Henry to convene new South African selection panel

Omar Henry, who has Test match and international one-day cricket on his CV as well as the captaincy of Scotland, has been appointed convener of the South African selectors in what amounts to an almost total clean-out of Rushdi Magiet's discredited previous panel.

Of Magiet's six selectors, only Haroon Lorgat remains on the new five-man panel named on Wednesday. Along with Henry and Lorgat, Pat Symcox, Hugh Page and Douglas Maku, the black African representative, will pick South Africa's national teams in a season that will culminate with next year's World Cup.

According to United Cricket Board chief executive Gerald Majola, the UCB general council wholly endorsed the recommendations of the newly-constituted National Cricket Committee. Although there was a slight delay in announcing the new panel, this was largely the result of the time it took to inform the axed former selectors that their services were no longer required. Along with Magiet, Morris Garda, Graeme Pollock and Peter Bacela did not win re-election. Mike Procter, who is now an ICC match referee, was not available to be re-elected.

The most striking feature of the new panel is that it possesses far greater credibility than its predecessor. Given the performance of the previous panel, it could be argued that this is no great feat, although, in fairness, the previous selectors tended to be hamstrung by the inept and muddled Magiet.

Along with Henry, who will relinquish his position as Boland coach, Symcox has also played post-isolation first-class and international cricket and will be a popular choice among the wider South African public. Within cricketing circles, the appointment of the genial Page, who played for South Africa during isolation, will also be welcomed and his brings to the new panel his knowledge of South African junior cricket as convener of the national under 19 panel.

Lorgat provides continuity with the former selectors while Maku, a Border selector, is unlikely to be a dominant influence in his first season on the panel, but will remind the selectors of the UCB's commitment to transformation.

It is Henry, though, who will attract the most attention. A left-arm spinner and handy lower-order who played in the 1992 World Cup, he started his career under the old South African Cricket Board before switching to the SA Cricket Union. He remains the oldest player to have made his Test debut for South Africa - he was 40 years and 295 days old when he played against India at Kingsmead in 1992.

More significantly, Henry's appointment signals the end of some of the old grudges and suspicions that have lingered on in South Africa cricket. Because he crossed the floor from black to white cricket, he was at one point viewed as a sell-out. His new appointment, however, indicates a softening of some previous hard-line attitudes. With the performance of the selectors bound to be closely monitored ahead of the World Cup, Henry's credentials should go a long way towards satisfying most of the sometimes disparate elements that make up South African cricket.

The first tasks facing the new panel would seem to be resolving the question of the nationally contracted players as well as naming a training squad with the World cup in mind. As selection convener, Henry will remain on the National Cricket Committee, but Symcox and Lorgat will have to drop off. It is not entirely clear when and by whom they will be replaced.