'A foolish error of judgement'

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The Independent Online

The former South Africa coach Bob Woolmer yesterday sprang to the defence of the man he relied on so heavily in his country's return to the top of world cricket and insisted Hansie Cronje was not guilty of match-fixing.

Woolmer, South Africa's coach for five years and now in his second spell as Warwickshire coach, insisted the former international captain was guilty of an "error of judgement", but added: "As far as I'm concerned I'm pretty sure that Hansie hasn't fixed any matches. I think he has spoken to people about fixing matches. He's just made a foolish error of judgement talking to bookmakers and so on. He should never have spoken to them.

"The point is I'm pretty sure he'll have just said to the guy - 'I'll tell so and so to get 19 and I'll tell someone else to throw his wicket away and I'll tell someone else to drop a catch' - just to get the guy out of the way. I stand behind that. I really do not believe that he fixed any matches at all.

"Hansie was always a very strong, forthright and honest person. I didn't have any problems with him as captain. The general reaction is one of shock and horror but at this stage we have to support Hansie and try and get him through what will be a very difficult time for him. He's still in my estimation a brilliant captain and a very honourable person."

Asked if the match-fixing allegations cast a doubt over South Africa's results over the last few years, Woolmer replied: "None whatsoever. There is no way we were involved in match-fixing... and to even suggest it is terrible."

The Australian captain, Steve Waugh, whose brother Mark and team mate Shane Warne were secretly fined by the Australian Cricket Board in 1995 for giving routine pitch and weather details to bookmakers, said he was disappointed by the actions of his South African counterpart and said cricket was the loser. "Cricket doesn't need this sort of thing," Waugh said. "Let's hope it is all cleared up and the game can get back on to the front and back pages for all the right reasons."

Waugh called for a global inquiry into corruption in cricket, allegations of which have spiralled since the launch of a Pakistan judicial panel into match fixing in 1998. "Someone has got to delve deep and find out what's going on," he said.

Australia's team manager Steve Bernard said that the match-fixing scandal had reduced the three-match series, which starts today, to a sideshow.

Cronje's sacking was greeted with disbelief by James Whitaker, who was his captain during his only season in county championship cricket at Leicestershire in 1995. He is a man of immense integrity and it comes as a huge shock that the South African board would see fit to sack him," he said. "If more people brought the honesty, integrity and commitment to cricket it would be a better game."

The financial implications of Cronje's admission are enormous, with his estimated annual income of around two million rand (£200,000) immediately being cut off as his contract expires in a month and Dr Ali Bacher, the managing director of South Africa's cricket board, saying it would not be renewed. His current contract has been suspended immediately.

While that already amounts to a sizeable income, it is the tip of the iceberg. Being such a high-profile sportsman, Cronje would have had lucrative personal endorsement contracts. He was also a sought after motivational speaker.