SA cricket bosses say 'match-fixing' tape is a hoax

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The Independent Online

The match-fixing controversy surrounding South Africa's cricket team descended into confusion last night as commentators claimed that the whole episode is a hoax and that tapes seeming to incriminate players were faked.

Captain Hansie Cronje and team mates Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje and Pieter Strydom were charged by Indian police on Friday with throwing games in their absence. This followed an investigation into alleged match-fixing during last month's one-day series between India and South Africa. India beat South Africa 3-2 in the one-day series.

All four players have expressed surprise and astonishment at the accusations, and yesterday they received the overwhelming backing of South Africa's cricketing establishment.

Indian police claim to have a damning tape recording of a conversation between Cronje and a London-based Indian businessman, Sanjiv Chawla, who has also been charged.

Indian police commissioner K K Paul told a New Delhi news conference on Friday that Interpol had been contacted "because a huge international crime has been committed".

Last night, however, Scotland Yard and the National Criminal Intelligence Service (NCIS) denied any approach had been made for help with the investigation. And a senior South African cricket journalist who has heard the tapes described the whole episode as a hoax. Trevor Chesterfield, who writes for Pretoria News and knows Cronje's voice well, said: "My impression was that both voices were of Asian origin. The voice that was supposed to be Hansie's did not have a South African accent.''

The South African government has also entered the row, asking India for an official explanation. It is particularly angry at the manner in which the charges were publicised at a press conference.

South African cricket officials feel that Indian police were too hasty in filing charges. Last night Dr Ali Bacher, the managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, told the Independent on Sunday that he too doubted the authenticity of the tape. "Even if this tape were to have the voice of Cronje, and I don't think that it does, it could have been assembled in," said Dr Bacher. "It is a poor recording and it could have featured snatches of Cronje from several conversations.''

Dr Bacher said he had not always seen eye to eye with Cronje, but continued to back his captain. "I was astonished by the claims. I know Hansie so well. He is a deeply religious man who would not get involved in anything like this. I am certain this alleged conversation didn't take place but there is also an element of infringement of civil liberties here.

"The Indian authorities have candidly admitted that the phone call was taped. What do you think their reaction would be if [former Indian cricket captain] Sachin Tendulkar's phone was taped in a hotel room in Johannesburg?''

It is believed that Cronje was approached on a previous South African tour of India three years ago about match-fixing. He told the man to "get lost".

Police in Delhi said an Indian businessman had been arrested and appeared in court on Friday.