The good name and reputation that Hansie Cronje built up as captain of South Africa, is in tatters, after he confessed yesterday to accepting money from an Indian bookmaker based in London. Yet, even more worrying must be the blight on the game itself and one-day cricket in particular. People may be shaking their heads in disbelief, but the question ringing around the cricket world is: if a God-fearing man like Cronje can be tempted, who else is in the bookies' thrall?
Cronje, who phoned Dr Ali Bacher, the chief executive of the United Cricket Board of South Africa at 3.00 am yesterday morning, after he had spoken to his priest, still denies the match-fixing claims made by police in New Delhi. But only the troubled move by night, and Cronje admitted to Bacher that he had been "dishonest" over his dealings with the UCBSA.
What that dishonesty amounted to, apparently, was a sum of money between US$10,000 and $15,000 (£7,500-£10,000) which had been given to him by an a unnamed man working on behalf of a London-based Indian bookmaker. Whether this was Sanjay Chawla, the man Indian police want in connection with a deal, allegedly caught on tape, involving the third one-day international against India in Faridabad, is still unclear.
According to Cronje, the money, like that in the case of Shane Warne and Mark Waugh, was for providing team news, pitch conditions and weather forecasts, but not match-fixing. Apparently it has yet to be deposited in an account, though Cronje told Bacher that the initial approach had been made in South Africa towards the end of the triangular one-day series with England and Zimbabwe.
Some believe the nature of confession - along the lines of Waugh's and Warne's - may be an exercise in damage limitation, which only came when the South African government, who had taken this to a rarefied diplomatic level, withdrew their support following further evidence from India. Apparently, one of the leading ministers went into bat for Cronje, but after seeing India's ambassador in Pretoria, came away with his pads off.
Once Cronje's confession had been made, Bacher spoke with the president of the UCBSA, and they decided to withdraw him from the one-day series against Australia which begins today. Within hours, the convenor of selectors, Rushdie Magiet, was informing Shaun Pollock of his appointment as captain.
It would not be an understatement to say that South Africa was in shock over the news. Cronje was a popular figure and even those eager to minimise white influence saw him as the acceptable face of the new South Africa. His part in building up a formidable cricket side that his countrymen were proud of, wasimmense. He was the longest-serving captain in Test cricket and he was lionised wherever he went. With his saturnine good looks he was also seen as a bit of a pin-up, and products ranging from luxury watches to potato chips bore his moody visage.
One former South African Test player, Hugh Page, said: "With the reputation he'd got over the last eight years, he was made for life. Companies would have been falling over each other to have him on their boards. It seems that's all been thrown away now."
So why did a seemingly intelligent man, who apparently wanted for little financially or spiritually, risk all for such a modest sum? Perhaps the official inquiries - by an independent body in South Africa as well as the International Cricket Council - will tell us, though if they are like those intothe Pakistan match-riggingallegations, the answers could take years.
South Africa, and cricket in particular, cannot wait that long. Indeed, the stain may never be completely removed and even now people are reexamining England's victory in the Centurion Test, where Cronje set England a generous run-chase, after rain had appeared to have produced a certain draw.
There is no doubt that Cronje the man, has changed in the last year. Still only 30, there is no doubt that the idealism which fired him to believe in the greater good of a country coming out of the sporting wilderness, was beginning to wane. He was, according to one or two England players who attended functions with him, also obsessed by money and forever talking about investments and the weakness of the rand. God-fearing, yes, but Croesusworshipping, seems to be the message.
Just before England's tour to South Africa last winter, rows with his selectors and the UCBSA over playing non-whites not good enough to hold a place on merit, brought threats of resignation. Indeed, had the board not thought so highly of him as a leader, they would have let him quit there and then. Since then, poor form had made his place less secure.
It is easy to get disenchanted with your lot in cricket, even in a good side like South Africa and the near misses in the World Cup, would have seen a life's ambition drain away.
Compared to other sports, cricketers have to work harder and longer for their money. With one of the highest (over 70 per cent) one-day win rates in history, it would be tempting to think this was a one-off.
Yet in 1996, at the end of a tiring tour of India, a substantial offer (US$250,000) was allegedly made to throw a one-day international in Mumbai. Instead of rejecting it out of hand, Cronje took it to his team, who eventually refused to play ball, though only four players were thought to have voted against it.
At the moment, his crimes - like those of Warne and Waugh - are not heinous, though with their misdemeanour as a recent precedent, they were donewilfully and with tacit knowledge that discovery would probably amount to expulsion from the team.
Many believe it could be the tip of the iceberg and far worse, such as rigging of matches and connivance in spread-bets, could follow. To that end, Bacher and the UCBSA say they will co-operate the Indian police in whatever ways they can, though with no extradition treaty between India and South Africa, Cronje's lawyers are unlikely to let him stand trial in India.
The transcript of the tape, the only evidence the public have seen, is curious in that while some of it rings true, an equal amount does not add up. Some phrases and idioms, such as the reference to "the guys" and repetition of words, are pure South African. Others, like some of the cricket jargon, I am not familiar with. Also puzzling is what madepolice suspicious of Cronje and spark the whole operation off? Perhaps the extra evidence which the New Delhipolice claim to possess, will clarify the picture.
In a country where corruption, rightly or wrongly, is perceived to be a black problem, his fall from grace will be used for political capital. A product of proud Afrikaner stock and one of South Africa's leading schools, Grey College in Bloemfontein, he will not be forgiven easily. At the moment, with only his close family and lawyers standing by him,Cronje will be feeling a very lonely man.
THE RISE AND FALL OF HANSIE CRONJE
1969: Born on 25 September,Wessel Johannes Cronje in Bloemfontein, the son of N E Cronje, who played for Orange Free State from 1960 to 1971 and was a former president of the Orange Free State Cricket Union. Brother, F J C Cronje, played first-class cricket in South Africa from 1986 to 1995.
1987-88: Made first-class debut for Orange Free State v Transvaal inJohannesburg. Went on to captain Orange Free State at the age of 21 and captained team to seven major domestic trophies in six seasonsbefore relinquishing post in 1995-96 because of demands of international cricket.
1991-92: Made Test debut for South Africa against the West Indies in Bridgetown. Made his oneday international debut againstAustralia in Sydney in World Cup.
1992-93: Hit maiden Test century (the first of six in career and also his highest Test score of 135) in third Test against India in PortElizabeth.
1993-94: Had first taste of Test captaincy, losing to Australia inAdelaide. Also hit his highest first-class score for Orange Free State, 251 in Bloemfontein.
1994-95: Officially appointed South Africa captain against New Zealand. Lost first match in charge but then led his country to five successive wins - a national record.
1995: Joined Leicestershire as overseas player. Best score was 158 against Lancashire at Old Trafford in the Benson and Hedges Cup.
1995-96: Led South Africa to home 1-0 Test series win over England.
1998: In charge for South Africa's dramatic 2-1 Test series defeat in England.
1999: Captained South Africa to semi-final of World Cup in England, where they were eliminated by the subsequent winners of the tournament, Australia, in a nail-bitingfinish at Edgbaston.
1999-2000: Led South Africa to home 2-1 Test series win over England and subsequent one-day triangular tournament success against Nasser Hussain's tourists and Zimbabwe. Took team to India, where they inflicted a rare home Test series defeat on home nation, but then were defeated 3-2 in a one-day series. Subsequently found himself at centre of match-fixing allegationsrelating to that one-day series. Denied match-fixing, but was sacked as captain yesterday by United Cricket Board of South Africa, having admitted to being "dishonest" with the South African board and accepting money for "providing information".Reuse content