Cricket World Revisit: Hansie Cronje's fall from grace
Hansie Cronje was a fixer, yes, but he was also an astute leader, a decent all-rounder and the face of South African cricket in the late 90's.
After the apartheid phase, South Africa re-entered the international fold in 1991, with a series of three ODIs in India. Cronje, along with three other young cricketers, was selected as four ‘development’ players who were to tour to gain experience. But, as the South African selectors decided to opt for a young team for their 1992 World Cup campaign, Cronje was one of the young batsmen in a team led by Kepler Wessels.
The South African World Cup campaign which had gone extremely well until rain and England cut short their dream in the semis. Cronje did not get too many runs in the tournament, but the experience would turn out to be invaluable.
By the time South Africa toured Sri Lanka in 1993, Cronje had been appointed vice-captain at a young age of 23. As he continued to impress with the bat and his persona, just a month after his 25th birthday, Cronje was offered the captaincy of the national team. And, as expected, he took to it very well.
In Test cricket, Cronje scored 3,714 runs at 36.41 with six hundreds to go with his 43 wickets at a respectable 29.95. In 188 ODIs, he scored 5,565 runs at 38.64 with two hundreds and 114 scalps at 34.78. Although Cronje's figures did not leap out, he more than made up for it with his leadership skills.
Under his leadership, South Africa won 27 Tests and lost 11. Of the 18 series he led in, 13 were won and he lost just four. In ODIs, he won 99 of his 138 matches as captain and lost just 35.
It came as a shock to the cricketing world when, following the 1999/2000 tour of India, the Delhi police released transcripts of telephone conversations between the South African captain and an Indian bookie named Sanjay Chawla. The charges were that Cronje had fixed South Africa’s One-Day International matches played a month earlier in India.
Cronje rubbished any such involvement. Given his clean image, most believed him as well.
The transcript released by Delhi police of Cronje’s conversation with Indian bookie Sanjay Chawla:
Chawla: Is Strydom playing?
Cronje: Yes, he is playing. Yeah.
Cronje: Boje is playing.
Chawla: And who is playing? Gibbs?
Cronje: Gibbs and myself.
Chawla: Yeah, what about anybody else?
Cronje: No. I won’t be able to get more.
Chawla: You won’t be able to get more?
Chawla: Okay, just tell me. But you have only four with you and not anybody else?
Cronje: No. No. Impossible. Impossible. The other guys are already angry with me because I have not received their money, you know.
Chawla: No. But I told you I have already given him altogether 60.
Chawla: And tomorrow I can deposit the money in your account. It is not a problem because of the time difference. Tomorrow itself I can deposit the money.
Chawla: Okay, and now how many runs for Gibbs?
Cronje: Less than 20.
Chawla: Less than 20?
Chawla: Okay. So everything is according to plan, they have to score at least 250?
Chawla: And if you score 270, it is all off?
Cronje: Okay. And financially the guys want 25. They want 25 each.
Chawla: All right, okay.
Cronje: So that’s 75 for those three and… what can you pay me? I do not know how much you can pay me.
Chawla: You say.
Cronje: If you give me…140 for everybody.
Chawla: 140 altogether?
Chawla: Okay, that’s fine.
But, just two days after the denial, Cronje made a phone call to Dr. Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA), in the early hours of April 11, 2000, confessing receiving money from the bookies. Within minutes of his call, Cronje was sacked as South Africa’s captain for that week’s ODIs against Australia and replaced by Shaun Pollock. Two months later, he was banned for life.
Here's a partial text of Cronje's hand-written confession:
"I have been a Christian since childhood days when I grew up in the house of two wonderful people, Ewie and San-Marie Cronje. I was reborn after the tragic death of a four-year-old girl on the north coast road to Stanger. I tried to live a Christian life and walk the way the Lord wanted me to walk...
"I would like to apologise to all my family members who stood right behind me through this, especially (his wife) Bertha and all the other Christians who prayed for me.
"It has been a tough weekend but also a great weekend for me in that I now have the opportunity to face myself in the mirror again for the first time since the (1999/2000) Indian tour.
"On my way to the nets (before the first one-day international against Zimbabwe in January) I was stopped by Hamid (Cassim), a bloke who has been hanging around the team for a few years now, always handing out biltong (dried meat) to the guys in return for some tickets. He told me that if only he knew I was going to declare (in the fifth test against England at Centurion Park) he could have made himself some good money and my reply was: 'Why don't you ask?'
"Since that day, in a moment of stupidity and weakness, I allowed Satan and the world to dictate terms to me, rather than the Lord. Hamid called me almost four times a day from then on.
"He later introduced me to a friend called Sanjay during the one-day international series with England and Zimbabwe. Together, they told me that I could also make some cash if we could maybe cook a match. I told them that I was not prepared to do this unless we were assured of a place in the final.
"Of course, we only narrowly got through to the final and the opportunity never came. I had in my possession at that stage 10,000 to 15,000 U.S. dollars that Sanjay gave me just in case I had a change of mind.
"I told him that maybe (in) the first one-day international in India I could see what could be done, thinking that if we could get the match out of the way, we'd get rid of them and could then focus purely on cricket. My idea was never to involve other players.
"I would like to make it absolutely clear to any member of the South African team, whether player or management, about this: I lied to him (Sanjay) by saying certain players were involved when in fact I had never spoken to any of them. I couldn't face asking them to do it. I can't recall all the names that I mentioned and I can't remember the figures that were mentioned.
"I ignored him the night before the (opening India) match but early the next morning, Hamid phoned me again and urged me to go ahead with the plan. I phoned him up and suggested we go for it. All this time, I had in the back of my mind: Pride to play for South Africa and my team mates, whom I all respect. It was a difficult period for me before the match and I then decided I won't not try, I'll give it my best shot and see what happens.
"As it happened, we got 301 for three. I got 19 off 20 balls and India knocked it off quite comfortably after (Mornantau) Hayward got injured. I can honestly say that I tried to win the match, even at that stage.
"When I got back to the hotel, Sanjay was upset because we got too many runs and I blamed the Indian keeper for three chances that he missed. I did not accept any money for that match.
"I feel that I can bring something good out of all this.
"I have been a role model for many people in South Africa and this was a lesson for all of you out there: When Satan comes knocking on the door, always keep your eyes on the Lord Jesus Christ and ask him to protect you from any wrong.
"The moment I took my eyes off Jesus, my whole world turned dark and it felt like someone had stuck a knife through my chest.
"Be thankful for family and friends. No matter what you go through, they will always stand by you. My parents have been through hell during my life and this has been their worst weekend ever. I want them to know that it was only because of their example that I am writing this letter and also want to be proud one day when I am their age.
"Thank you Mom and Dad, Frans (Brother) and Sus (Sister) and all the other family. I apologise for letting you down.
"To Bertha: She deserves better than me. Yet she has been patient and trying her utmost to keep me on the right track. She is a devoted Christian and I lied to her about this whole issue.
"I'll be back. Better off than I am now, once I have been punished."
Unfortunately, life didn't give Cronje a second chance. On June 1, 2002, at the age of 32, he passed away in a plane crash.
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