Film-making brother seeks redemption for South African cricket hero disgraced by betting scandal

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The Independent Online

Frans Cronje pointed to the mountain where his brother Hansie died. "The plane had circled once and was coming round again when it hit the top of the other side of that mountain. I had to identify Hansie's body the next day after the rescue team got him down." That was five years ago and South Africa has been wrestling with Hansie's legacy ever since.

Some regard the former national cricket captain as a cheat and liar for confessing to match-fixing with Indian bookmakers which led to a life ban from the game.

Others, and they seem to be in the majority in South Africa, see him as a flawed hero who brought pride to the new "rainbow nation" in the 1990s and helped topple Australia as the world's best one-day team.

Fuelling that debate is a film produced by Frans, a screenwriter, which he hopes will bring "redemption" for his brother whom he thinks was harshly treated by the cricketing establishment. Costing R55m (£4m), the 100-minute film Hansie traces his rise and fall, and "failings" as a human being, said Frans.

Speaking on location in George, where his younger brother lived with his wife Bertha following the scandal, Frans said: "This film is not just about cricket, it's about redemption. In the end, Hansie found redemption and was able to rebuild his life. I also believe that if we cannot forgive people when they make mistakes, then we are not human.

"It's relevant to a country like South Africa. If Nelson Mandela can come out of prison after 27 years preaching forgiveness after everything that had happened to him and the black population, then we should be able to forgive Hansie."

Dark, brooding and handsome, Wessel Johannes "Hansie" Cronje brought a cavalier attitude to life and cricket. Born in Bloemfontein in 1969, he made his first-class cricket debut for Orange Free State at only 18. He made his international debut in 1992, a year after South Africa was readmitted to international competition as apartheid was dismantled.

Cricketers who played under him said he led from the front and was inspiring. He was known as a practical joker but could also sulk and be moody. He built up a wide, albeit grudging, respect during his career until match-fixing allegations surfaced in 2000. Hansie confessed to taking money and gifts from Indian bookmakers to fix results of games and was banned from playing or coaching for life.

"Hansie realised that he was wrong and he was sorry for it all. He knew what he had done was unethical. He knew it was wrong but we all do things that are wrong. The important thing is to admit it and turn away from it," said Frans. "He was very harshly treated by the media and especially the British media, and the cricket establishment."

The film crew are shooting in Cape Town, George and Johannesburg, and in London next month where Hansie will be filmed by the Thames before a Lord's Test. "He promised his headteacher that if he ever played at Lord's, he would buy him a ticket. Well, he did play, he bought the ticket and the headteacher went to the match," said Frans.

Frank Rautenbach, an actor more used to soap operas, who plays Hansie, had to train six days a week for eight months to lose 7kg while building up muscle mass for the role. He was a fan but admits disappointment. "Why did he do it? Why do people do something they know is risky? Why do people smoke when they can get cancer? People do things, not always because of the return but because they think they can get away with it. It's temptation."

Rautenbach, 35, added: "Right at the end of the confession, Hansie said he'd like to thank Indian police for tipping them off. He was suicidal because he couldn't get out of it. Hansie did want to get out, but got in too deep. If he hadn't been caught out, then who knows what might have happened?"

After being banished, Hansie moved to George with Bertha, who is played by the American Sarah Thompson, 27, a lead actress in the US series 7th Heaven. The Cronjes had no children before Hansie was killed in a cargo plane crash in June 2002, just north of George. Bertha has since remarried.

"What's amazing," Thompson said, "is that, despite everything, he's still really popular among ordinary people. It seems he was getting his life together before he died – helping disabled children and inspiring them."

Dr Ali Bacher, head of South Africa's United Cricket Board when the scandal broke, said Hansie enjoyed enduring popularity: "People abroad don't understand it, but Hansie is still a popular man here. He was close to players like Alan Donald and Jonty Rhodes who offered him 100 per cent support when it all came out. If someone admits everything in something like this, they shouldn't be banned for life. They should be allowed rehabilitation and reconciliation. Nelson Mandela may not have forgotten but he has forgiven."

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