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We have lift-off

Houston, we have a Percy. Not a big one; about the size of a small nuclear warhead. By the way, he's going to be piloting this ship from now on.

It is perhaps unfair to paint Percy Sonn's succession to the presidency of the ICC in colours quite so garish. The ICC has, after all, had years to come to terms with the reportedly hard-drinking, definitely tough-talking South African's way of getting things done.

Come Friday the moment will be upon us. Sonn will take over the reins from Ehsan Mani.

Sonn has, of course, been elected to every position he has held as a cricket administrator. Thus he enjoys the respect and support of figures who have much at stake. They are not about to throw away years of carefully gathered power and stature just to watch some pickled nutter crash and burn. And yet, there are high-placed fears that Sonn might do just that.

"He has wonderfully positive attributes, but the downside is he is a loose cannon," said an administrator who served alongside Sonn during his tenure as president of the United Cricket Board (UCB).

"He often says the right thing at the right time, but he can also overreact and blow things up. A lot of people think these things are alcohol-induced. Some of them are, but not all of them.

"He is a maverick who can shoot from the hip and the lip and everywhere else. But not in meetings, where he conducts himself with decorum. He sticks to protocol and his demeanour is formal.

"Then he'll walk out of the room and, often without having had a drink, start swearing and go mad. He offers so many excellent qualities, but there is the risk that he could blow at any time. He could make some comment or do something stupid, and then you have fires to put out."

Infamously, Sonn "fell out of his trousers" at a 2003 World Cup match; he has used, publicly, language that would make footballers, their wives and their hooligans blush; he said Hansie Cronje "wouldn't be allowed to play beach cricket".

Sonn went over the selectors' heads and replaced the white Jacques Rudolph with the black Justin Ontong in a South African Test team, and he did so on racial grounds. He refused ICC match referee Mike Denness access to the ground where he was to officiate. He threatened to cancel a South African tour to England after England balked at playing a 2003 World Cup match in Harare.

All of which echoes the alarming opinion to be gained of Sonn from the distance of headlines. Brandon Foot, a former member of the UCB general council, offered an alternative view.

"I enjoyed him tremendously as president of the UCB," Foot said. "He has a fantastic sense of humour which he very often skilfully uses to defuse tension.

"There may be big, tough issues on the table which everyone is emotional about it, and then he makes some crack which defuses that tension and allows people to relax a little. That can make him very effective at what he does."

Sonn and Foot are both lawyers, but that would be akin to saying the Empire State Building and a suburban bus stop are both part of the built environment. Where Sonn thrives in the spotlight, Foot beavers away in quiet confidence. Nevertheless, Foot's professional opinion of Sonn is effusively positive.

"He's an incredibly intelligent man, who people under-estimate at their peril," said Foot, who is no longer involved in cricket and thus has no reason to defend Sonn. "He is as sharp as you can get from a legal perspective. As a lawyer - he's been a prosecutor and he's acted as a judge - he will work with what is in front of him."

Foot went on to describe Sonn in terms that bordered on allegations of ironclad propriety. "He is very ethical; I've always found him to be, from the perspectives of ethics and integrity, top notch. I never got the impression that he was devious or did anything under the table. In fact, he is possibly too honest."

He has wonderfully positive attributes, but the downside is he is a loose cannon

Sonn would also seem to have the requisite toughness to rule an ICC roost crammed to the rafters with money and awkward allegiances. "He knows his business, and he knows his cricket in terms of international politics," said Logan Naidoo, the president of the KwaZulu-Natal Cricket Union and a current UCB general council member.

"That's important when you have nations like Australia and England on one side of the table and India and Pakistan on the other. It takes a lot of guts to take them on, and to be able to manoeuvre in that scenario."

Our unnamed administrator above didn't see Sonn in quite the same light. "He has built up a strong following among certain countries in the ICC, particularly the Asian countries, the West Indies and Zimbabwe."

What might Sonn do about the dismal state of cricket in Zimbabwe? "He is very decisive, but he is so close to Peter Chingoka that I think he will give Zimbabwe every opportunity - as fellow Africans - to survive."

There are signs that Sonn has opted for a less noisy lifestyle. As Naidoo put it, "He's changed a lot, we haven't seen Percy in the news for a long time. But will he revert to type atop the ICC pile? If an interview Sonn gave last year is any indication, not much has changed.

"Why should everyone bring up my past, it won't affect my performance," Sonn fumed. "What happened yesterday is not necessarily what will happen tomorrow. But I had quite many controversies when I was president of the UCB and, at the end of the day, the way I dealt with those crises is maybe why I was the only nomination for the ICC vice-presidency."

Another South African administrator remembers the Sonn years differently. "If I did one tenth of what he did I would have been hung, drawn and quartered. But he has an impish look and demeanour, and he can get away with a lot. He's a classic curate's egg."

Scrambled, fried and hard-boiled, clearly.

Read Colin Bryden's interview with Percy Sonn which appeared in Cricinfo Magazine.