Cronje shame leaves South Africa in crisis

Match Fixing Scandal: Inquiry launched as captain admits accepting £10,000 from bookmaker but denies throwing games

South Africa was still trying to come to terms this morning with the shattering revelations that one of its favourite sons, Hansie Cronje, took money from an Indian bookmaker.

Cronje yesterday admitted he accepted up to £10,000 for "providing information and forecasts". He was promptly sacked as South Africa's cricket captain and suspended from playing, but he denied being involved in match fixing. Nor has he done anything with the cash he admits he received.

The depth of shock in South Africa and indeed world cricket cannot be overstated. Cronje, a born-again Christian, was universally regarded as personifying all that was good in the game, the embodiment of the spirit of fair play and the clean-cut sporting image of cricket.

Yesterday Cronje's status was summed up by Dr Ali Bacher, the managing director of the country's governing body, the United Cricket Board. He said: "We in South African cricket are shattered. We would also say unequivocally that the United Cricket Board and the government have been deceived."

Bacher added: "As a matter of urgency I have asked the government to institute an inquiry into these allegations."

The UCB's president, Percy Sonn, promised: "The inquiry is going to be very, very quickly done. It is not going to be a drawn-out affair." Adding that it would be a two-stage inquiry, the first looking specifically into the Cronje case, the second a wider-ranging probe encompassing the whole of the South African cricket establishment.

The all-rounder Shaun Pollock has succeeded Cronje as captain and takes charge for the three-match one-day series against Australia, which gets under way today.

Cronje was in Cape Town yesterday to meet South Africa's Minister of Sport, Ngconde Balfour, and the Deputy Foreign Affairs Minister, Aziz Pahad, a meeting which indicates how serious the issue is. "We do have a crisis on our hands in South African cricket, we cannot escape that reality," added Bacher, who was clearly in a state of shock and had to be prompted several times during the news conference at which cricket world's worst fears were realised.

Initially Cronje, whose team lost a one-day series 3-2 to India last month, had protested his innocence. "I deny ever receiving any sum of money during the one-day series," he said on Sunday, adding that he had never spoken to any member of the team, in particular the three other players named, Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Pieter Strydom.

This denial was in the face of a transcript alleged to be part of a taped telephone conversation between Cronje and Sanjeev Chawla, an Indian bookmaker living in London. A South African bookmaker is also allegedly involved. Delhi police charged Cronje and his three team-mates - Boje, Gibbs and Strydom - in their absence with "cheating, fraud and criminal conspiracy relating to match-fixing and betting". Three Indian businessmen also face charges in a country where only on-course bookmaking is legal.

Chawla, however, yesterday insisted he had never met or spoken to the South Africa captain. Police claim to have tapes of the bookmaker and Cronje conversing on the phone but Chawla's solicitors, Bindman & Partners, have issued a statement which read: "Mr Chawla vehemently and categorically denies any involvement in allegations of match rigging. He denies that he has met the South African cricketer Hansie Cronje and denies speaking to him at any time on the telephone as has been reported from New Delhi. He is not 'in hiding' as some newspapers have also suggested."

Yesterday Cronje told the two politicians at the meeting: "Earlier this year I was contacted by a South African during the series with England and Zimbabwe, which was about three weeks before the tour to India. While I was in India I was again contacted. I mentioned names of players, but in fact I never spoke to a single player about throwing a match. I never received any financial rewards.

"For the sake of my Christian conviction I have decided to reveal my involvement in this matter. I admit that I made an error of judgement and I never thought it would lead to such serious implications.

"I wish to apologise to all South Africans, the team, especially the particular players singled out, the United Cricket Board of South Africa, the government as well as my wife and family for my involvement in the matter as spelt out."

Bacher received a phone call from Cronje at 3am yesterday. "I was phoned from Durban, [the team manager] Goolam Raja handed the phone over to Hansie Cronje, who said to me that he had not been honest to the United Cricket Board, to the board president [Percy Sonn], to myself and to the country, with regard to these allegations of match fixing.

"After I had spoken to him he phoned the president at 10 past three and repeated the same comment to him. At 3.30 this morning the president and myself met and we decided there and then to withdraw Hansie Cronje from the national team from the three one-day internationals against Australia.

"In essence what he conveyed to both the president and myself was that during the triangular one-day series in South Africa between Zimbabwe, England and South Africa, contact was made with him, by a local South African and a bookmaker of Indian origin based in London. Discussions took place and Hansie Cronje was given between $10,000 and $15,000 (£7,500-£10,000), which he took home. As of today he has not deposited the money in an account, but he did take that money."

Bacher said Cronje had acknowledged that in India there was communication by telephone, but he appeared to try to find mitigation for Cronje: "During the tour of India he was harassed continually by bookmakers. He denies match-fixing. Our understanding is that there was a detailed providing of information and forecasting, not match fixing." The case appears to echo that of the Australians Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, who were fined in February 1995 for giving what was described as "routine pitch and weather details" to bookmakers during their 1994 tour of Sri Lanka.

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