A talent who led from behind

2013-06-08 00:00

ANDREW Hudson was not a flamboyant character on the cricket field. In fact, one had to make a point of looking for him when South Africa were fielding, just to make sure he was still there.

In his playing days as a Proteas opening batsman, he quietly went about his job at the top of the order, accepting failure with stoicism, and was one of those trusted warriors a captain could depend on in the trenches when the going was tough. He possessed a succulent cover drive and a sweet pull through mid-wicket, yet he worked hard for his runs. In essence, he was a grafter who grabbed his opportunity to represent South Africa after isolation with both hands.

For the boy from Eshowe it started at Kearsney College where a world of sport and facilities awaited him. He could not let the opportunity slip away.

Said Hudson: “I was in the first cricket team for two years, in standard nine and 10. Surprisingly, I only started opening the batting in matric, being a middle order six or seven before then. Believe it or not, I opened the bowling in standard nine, but a back problem in matric saw me concentrate on batting.”

Hudson was good enough to make the KZN Schools side in 1982, his matric year, and ran out for the first rugby team. “Standards nine and 10 were busy sports years for me. Cricket in summer and rugby in winter. I played wing in standard nine and fullback in matric.”

At the end of his school days it wasn’t an easy toss-up between cricket and rugby. By that stage, he had added tennis and squash to his bow, but he went the route of the leather and oval ball, trying to fit both into his post-school years.

“I played U20 rugby for DHSOB but an injury forced me to give it up. Then it was the easy choice of cricket. I turned out for Umbilo in those days, which was a revelation.

“Those years always stick in my mind. It was the perfect training ground and foundation for what I went on to achieve. We were a respected top-division side and I was playing with the likes of Phil Russell, Robbie Kurz, Les Orchard, Mike Turrell and Fin Neilsen. I owe them much as it’s thanks to their belief and encouragement that I was inspired to achieve beyond club level,” said Hudson.

The talent spotters got it right when naming Hudson in the SA team under Clive Rice to visit India in 1991, straight after isolation, for three one-day internationals, although Hudson only played in two. As with many international cricketers, his international baptism of fire was not one to cherish.

Said Hudson: “It was unbelievable to walk out at Eden Gardens, with a crowd of 100 000 in the house. All I kept thinking was not to get out early or make a fool of myself. The world was watching and … I got a duck. That’s the game and on reflection, my only positive was being part of a historic occasion. If I could hit the rewind button … who knows.”

Cricket being the game that it is, Hudson’s crowning moment came in the first post-isolation Test match, a one-off showdown against Ritchie Richardson’s West Indies in Barbados, where his nine-hour 163 was the first century by a South African on debut. “Facing Curtly Ambrose, Courtney Walsh and Patrick Patterson I never knew what to expect,” said Hudson. “I wanted to survive this time and suddenly I was past 50, 100, 150. The moment was fantastic but I plummeted down to Earth with a duck in the second innings, cricket proving the greatest leveller.”

A solid 1992 World Cup in Australia, where he managed three fifties and 296 runs at an average of 62, proved his pedigree on the big stage. While short-changed with the 22 runs off one ball debacle in the semi-final against England, Hudson’s lasting memory is of the one that got away, Aussie Geoff March in the opening match. Said Hudson: “What a start. A raw, aggressive Allan Donald charging in, first ball, big nick Marsh, we all go up … and the world stops moving. We all heard it, except umpire Brian Aldridge. Luckily we picked up Marsh for 25.”

It was a world of firsts for Hudson in his SA tenure. On many occasions he faced the first ball in a Test match or ODI in the first ever match between South Africa and the opposition. He was also the first SA batsman to make an official ODI century, cracking 108 against India in Bloemfontein, in 1992. “In those days, the crowd invaded the field and the game was stopped while security cleaned up.”

Hudson played 35 Tests for South Africa, scoring four centuries and compiling 2007 runs at an average of 33,45. While he rates his West Indian effort against a barrage of quicks, his 146 against India at Kolkata in 1996 “was very sweet in their backyard against three spinners”.

The best bowlers he faced were Pakistan’s Wasim Akram and the Wizard of Oz, Shane Warne. “Akram was a great exponent of swing and seam, while Warne never bowled two balls the same and had unbelievable control. I was privileged to play with the greats of the game — Tendulkar, Lara, Steve Waugh … the list is endless.”

These days, Hudson is family man, husband of Tracey and father to three boys. He works in the world of finance and has a B.Soc. Sc. degree from the University of Natal, a CFP post-grad degree atthe University of Free State and is currently in his third year of an MBA with Henley Business School in Reading, England.

All this while convenor of selectors for the Proteas, a position he has enjoyed in a three-year tenure and hopes to continue in the future.

At home, he tends to let Tracey run the kitchen, while a chicken or roast on the Weber is his speciality. He is always keen for a beer and when eating out, enjoys sushi with a glass of Sauvignon Blanc.

He watches sport on TV with the odd movie and the music he enjoys is a true reflection of his character — Dire Straits, Johnny Clegg, UB 40 — mellow and great quality, which sums up his standing in life.

His life reflects his cricket career at the top of the order — ready to face whatever comes his way, never shirking a challenge or responsibility and always knowing how to keep running between the wickets, building that perfect score.

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