Sport on TV: Sound of leather jacket on tear-stained pillow
Sunday 08 June 2008
The England cricket team have to be whiter than white these days, by the look of their new outfits. It's a good job, too, because the grey skies that hang over this country mean they are not easy to see. But a cloud has hung over the game ever since South Africa's captain Hansie Cronje picked up the phone at 3am, broke down and confessed to match-fixing.
As an icon of the post-apartheid era who should have been acutely conscious of colour, alas when Cronje looked at the new Rainbow Republic all he saw was the pot of gold at the end of it. And 'Not Cricket: The Bookmaker and The Captain' (BBC4, Monday) stressed that when he approached his team-mates to help him fix a one-day international in India, he went after two of the first non-white players to represent South Africa, Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams.
The tragedy in the story was not so much that cricket was bent, but that a dream had died. The world had eagerly awaited the return of South Africa to the sporting fold. Cronje had singlehandedly ruined it, like someone spiking the punch at the launch party.
The extent of Cronje's betrayal was highlighted by an earlier programme in the BBC's Cricket Legends series, 'The Basil D'Oliveira Conspiracy', which was shown on the same night. It told the epic tale of a supremely talented "Cape Coloured" cricketer who came to England to express himself on a level playing field with the white man, and how that brave journey was compromised when the chiefs of English cricket bowed to South African demands that he should not tour the country of his birth as an England player. The tour was cancelled, and so began 20 years of sporting isolation.
It was Cronje who was supposed to lead them out of the wilderness, but he loved money too much. There is something biblical about the simplicity of this parable – and his death, in a light aircraft that crashed into the side of a mountain.
With South Africa due in this country, thoughts turn to Cronje and the Centurion Test of 2000 when, for the first time ever, Test innings were forfeited to achieve a result from a rain-ruined match. Cronje orchestrated this at the behest of Marlon Aronstam, a bookmaker who "cold-called" him on his mobile phone and rewarded him with a leather jacket. The wonder is in the detail, but the larger picture may indicate that after Centurion, Test cricket was never the same.
These days there are many more results than tame draws, and the game is played more positively. Do we have Cronje to thank for that? And how about the Twenty20 revolution? Aronstam said fixing would continue until "players received the right remuneration". The Indian Premier League may have solved that problem, but the proliferation of this latest form of the game is even more of a bookies' dream.
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