The cricket world's reaction to the loss of Hansie Cronje was ambivalent in spite of the tragedy of his death in a plane crash in the Western Cape yesterday at the age of 32. After all, it was not the first time that the disgraced former South African captain had sent shockwaves through the game. He had led his country with distinction after two decades of sporting isolation. But he, too, had gone into exile when he was banned for life in 2000, after it was revealed that he took money to influence his side's performances.
While strong affection was expressed for a sporting icon in his homeland, others dwelt on the shame that Cronje brought on his country and the game. "It is a very sad time but unfortunately he will be forgotten for the good things he did and will be remembered for the wrong reasons," said Ian Botham. The former England coach David Lloyd was more forthright in his condemnation, stating that Cronje would "go down as the man who disgraced cricket".
His countrymen, however, adopted a more conciliatory tone. The former President, Nelson Mandela, commended Cronje for attempting to rebuild his life after the scandal, declaring that his efforts had "promised to make him once more a role model of how one deals with adversity".
"It's dreadful, I'm numb," said Bob Woolmer, the former England batsman who spent a highly successful spell as the South African coach. "I can't believe it's happened. Hansie and I were both friends and colleagues, and as recently as 10 March we swam and drank wine together at his house overlooked by the very mountains that took him from us.
"He was the best captain I ever worked with. The South African team would have walked off Table Mountain for him. He was hard, fair, kind and generous and a man destined for greatness. He did more good for South African cricket than he has been given credit for. I hope he is remembered for the good things he has done for the game."
Woolmer made reference to Cronje's strong Christian beliefs, adding: "In the last two years his life changed and he found out who his true friends were. He has gone to a better place to be with his best friend in the world. I wish him well in God's cricket team."
"It's a terrible shock, it's a tragedy," said veteran opener Gary Kirsten. "As most people remember him, he was a great cricketer. I knew him better than most but he was a good friend, he was good for my career and he got the best out of me." Reflecting on the corruption issue, he said: "Obviously, what happened with him was going to be tough for everyone to deal with, but I will remember him fondly."
Former paceman Fanie de Villiers paid tribute to Cronje's strong leadership. "A point I've been making on a lecture tour recently is that we have not got anyone like him or Kepler Wessels [his predecessor as captain] any more. They were generals on the field."
Life and times
1969: born on 25 September in Bloemfontein.
1987-88: first-class debut for Free State v Transvaal at Johannesburg. Captained the side at age of 21. Won seven major domestic trophies in six seasons.
1991-92: Test debut v West Indies in Barbados as South Africa return to Test arena after sporting isolation.
1992-93: maiden Test century v India at Port Elizabeth.
1994-95: appointed captain of South Africa.
1995: played one season for Leicestershire.
11 April 2000: sacked as South Africa captain after admitting he had not told truth over bribery allegations.
15 June 2000: admitted receiving money for giving information to bookmakers.
11 October 2000: banned for life.
16 August 2001: vowed to stay in South Africa and make up for his "mistake".
17 October 2001: fails in bid to overturn ban.
1 June 2002: killed in plane crash aged 32.
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