Fond memories of Cronje will always be tainted by scandal

Angus Fraser
Monday 03 June 2002 00:00 BST
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Louise Thomas

Louise Thomas

Editor

The death of Hansie Cronje, the disgraced former South Africa captain, at the age of 32, leaves many questions unanswered. The main one being, would a young man, who even to his opponents appeared to have everything, be dragged into a scandal that has done more to tarnish the image of cricket than anything in the game's history?

Once the feelings of shock and sadness disappear, one must ask why would such an outstanding athlete, a man worshipped in South Africa and who became an icon in his country following the end of apartheid, risk it all for money he surely did not need.

Greed is the obvious explanation, but following the events of Saturday, when the cargo plane he was travelling in crashed into a mountainside near his home town of George on the Eastern Cape, we will now never find out.

As a player, Cronje was self-made. He was mechanical; not a natural athlete with an easy style, but no one was fitter, more committed and harder working, even in a disciplined and conscientious South African side. On attitude towards the game and preparation he led from the front. Through being an intelligent man and great thinker about the game, he worked out what was right for him. He knew his limitations, played within them and became an effective if not a dynamic cricketer. Cronje seemed uncomfortable in the face of fast bowling but was a magnificent player of spin. I can still remember the ruthless way he dealt with a struggling Ian Salisbury during England's Test series against South Africa in 1998. Aware Salisbury was low on confidence, his natural game against the spinners was to be positive. He went after him from ball one, hitting him out of the attack and the game.

It was in one-day cricket, though, where he was at his most impressive, where his all-round game stood out. With the quick men not allowed to get the ball around head height, he became a destructive batsman and this, along with his disciplined medium-pace bowling and outstanding fielding, made him one of the leading all-rounders. As a leader Cronje was an impressive and inspirational man if slightly defensive in his tactics.

An excellent speaker, he once spoke at a dinner I attended without notes for 40 minutes, reciting from Hamlet word for word. On the field he had the respect of his team and communicated well with his players. He was in control and calm under pressure and was as tough as they come when dealing with the opposition.

I remember one occasion when facing the fast bowler Allan Donald whilst attempting to save a Test match at Old Trafford, Cronje was fielding three yards in front of me at silly mid-off. He spoke to his team in Afrikaans so I did not have a clue what they were planning. There was, however, the odd word or two in English thrown in which he wanted me to hear such as "come on lads, he's under huge pressure, one mistake and they've lost this series". Then he would revert to Afrikaans.

The only thing that shocked me more than his untimely death was his involvement in the scandal he will ultimately be remembered for most.

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