The world was left shocked when Hansie Cronje admitted to taking money to fix matches. Cronje, who had led South Africa in 53 Tests and 138 One-Day Internationals (ODI), was nothing short of a hero in South African sporting circles and was a well-respected figure among his peers and by cricketers around the world. However, the face of South African cricket and the entire perception of the game took a severe beating after the incident. While it might be two decades ago, the impact it left on cricketers and the fans back then are still quite fresh.
It ruined careers and tarnished the game, which was worshipped by millions across the world. After initially denying all allegations of taking bribes, Cronje called Ali Bacher, the South African board’s managing director at 3 in the morning on April 11, 2000 to confess to providing information to the bookies during the India series earlier that year in exchange for $10,000 to $15,000.
In fact, India captain Mohammad Azharuddin too was brought into the controversy as it was believed that that he was the one who introduced Cronje to a bookie, Mukesh Gupta in 1996. The Indian skipper was also banned from the game but the decision was later revoked. The likes of Ajay Jadeja and Nikhil Chopra also received five-year bans for their involvement, which was later reduced.
Upon confession, the government of South Africa decided to have an enquiry, which would be led by Justice Edward King known as the King’s commission. In India, the government had ordered a CBI enquiry to bring those Indian players involved in the scandal to justice. In addition to the match-fixing scandal in question, the King’s commission would also go on to examine the dodgy Centurion Test of 2000, where upon the insistence of Cronje, the England team had decided to forfeit an innings so that there could be a result after most of the match was affected by rain.
The commission began proceedings on June 7, 2000, where Pat Symcox went on record to state that Cronje had gathered him and several others to his room during a tour of India in 1996, saying that he had received $250,000 to throw a match away, which after consulting everyone he declined.
It was a further blow for Cronje when Herschelle Gibbs testified claiming that Cronje wanted him to score under 20 in the fifth ODI against India in Nagpur in 2000 for which he had accepted a sum of $15,000. Fast bowler Henry Williams too had accepted a similar amount, if he conceded more than 50 runs in the same game. Williams too backed up this story. For Cronje, who had earlier stated that none of his team-mates were involved in the match-fixing, it was a matter of concern.
Later, Nicky Boje and Pieter Strydom’s names too came up. While Boje completely denied any charges of match-fixing, Strydom revealed that he had been offered money ahead of the first Test against India in Mumbai during their 2000 tour. There were also suspicions over offspinner Derek Crookes opening the bowling in the final ODI in Mumbai during the 2000 tour, when initially it was decided that he will not be doing so.
During the trial, the King’s Commission investigated 14 matches between 1995 and 2000 that were believed to be fixed or an attempt being made to fix. Cronje as a result was handed a lifetime ban.
Video Courtesy: AP Archive
Even though the match-fixing allegations eventually destroyed his career, Cronje came from a family of cricketers with his father Ewie and brother Frans featuring for The Orange Free State – a team which Hansie captained at the age of 21, after making his debut at 18.
The importance of hard work, discipline and dedication had been inculcated quite early in his life and under coach Eddie Barlow, former South Africa allrounder, he developed the physical and mental strength needed to survive.
That would go on to serve him well for the rest of his cricketing career, as he scored crucial hundreds, picked up important wickets and led his team to impressive victories. He could certainly back a punch as a batsman, scoring runs at a brisk pace in the middle-order especially in ODIs, where he could take the game away with his strokeplay. With ball in hand, he was as accurate as any in the world, to the extent that Sachin Tendulkar also once said that he hated facing Cronje, who had dismissed the great man on seven occasions in international cricket.
Till Cronje’s last ODI he was one of four cricketers to have scored 5,000 runs and picked up 100 wickets along with great names like Sir Viv Richards, Steve Waugh and Sanath Jayasuriya.
As far as his captaincy is concerned, he till date, is South Africa’s best ODI captain having won led them to 99 wins from 138 matches and is among the best in Tests as well, having captained them in 27 wins – only behind Graeme Smith’s 53 wins, and only behind Shaun Pollock when it comes to the win/loss ratio.
Cronje was only 31 when his career was as good as over. It was a difficult phase for South Africa cricket, who not too long ago overcame the apartheid era, played competitive cricket in the better part since readmission, only to be let down by a sportsperson who the entire nation at one point looked up to and considered their hero.