Cronje denies bribes claim

The arrest of a Delhi bookmaker on Thursday night led to sensational claims yesterday that Hansie Cronje, captain of the South African side currently touring India, and some of his team-mates, took money to throw three matches against India in a one-day series last month that India won 3-2.

India experienced a sudden return to form during the series, which followed a disastrous tour of Australia during which they lost practically everything, including all the Tests. But the charges made by Delhi's joint commissioner of police (crime), Dr K K Paul,allege that their success was far worse than a fluke.

Releasing details of what he claimed to be a transcript of cellphone conversations between the bookie and Cronje, Dr Paul said: "By engaging in such activities, these people have put the general public to a wrongful loss, and have illegally amassed large sums of money and made wrongful gain to themselves, thereby committing the offence of criminal conspiracy and cheating."

Dr Paul claimed that Cronje and a bookmaker called Sanjay Rajesh met in the Taj Palace Hotel in Delhi.

He said that the racket was exposed after the Crime Branch's Anti-Extortion Cell had been told that some Indian bookies were in contact with South African players for the purpose of fixing matches. He claimed that the accused bookies had obtained a cellphone and passed it to Cronje. "The police is in possession of the cellphone," he said. "There is no element of doubt left."

The other South African players accused were the opening batsman Herschelle Gibbs, left-arm spinner Nicky Boje and medium-pace bowler Pieter Strydom.

The United Cricket Board of South Africa was quick to deny the allegations. In a statement, they said: "The United Cricket Board is certain that no South African players have ever been involved in match-fixing. Managing director Ali Bacher has spoken to South African captain Hansie Cronje who is adamant that the allegations are completely untrue."

Asked whether the possibility existed that the players had been used to entrap some leading figures in the recent match-fixing scandals in India and Pakistan, Bacher said he was "not prepared to comment."

Cronje himself described the charges as "absolute rubbish", while Gibbs said: "That's nonsense, completely ludicrous. What does a person do when something like this happens?" The South African team manager, Goolam Raja, called the issue "one big joke". Expressing his "absolute surprise", he said, "I don't know where such a story could come from."

Match-rigging allegations have been laid against Pakistan, India and Australia in the past but never against South Africa.

The former South Africa captain Kepler Wessels called for an independent inquiry yesterday. "I'd be astonished if it had happened in this instance, but this thing is rife in cricket and the biggest mistake we could make would be to try and sweep it under the carpet without an investigation," he said.

Bob Woolmer, the former South African coach, said: "My initial thoughts are that this is a bad April Fool's joke. I am convinced that Hansie Cronje is not guilty and that he would not even contemplate such actions. These allegations are absolute garbage. He is not the type of person to get involved in anything like this."

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