What happens when one of the sweetest days of your career turns out to be a scam? Nasser Hussain found out after shocking revelations about his first overseas Test win as captain.
The match in question here is the Centurion Test between South Africa and England in 2000. It was the fifth Test of the series that South Africa was already leading 2-0. South Africa batted first on a rain-curtailed Day 1, scoring 155/6 in 45 overs. Three days of rain followed. A draw was the only result possible when the skies cleared for Day 5.
However, before the start of play, South Africa skipper Hansie Cronje saw England wicketkeeper, Alec Stewart in the stairway. He asked him if Nasser Hussain, the England captain, would like an offer. The offer was for both captains to forfeit an innings each - South Africa forfeit their second innings while England forfeit their first innings. This would mean that England will have to simply chase down South Africa's first innings total to win. If South Africa bowl them out, it is their match.
According to Hussain, Cronje offered a possible target of 270 runs from 73 overs. An asking rate of 3.7 was stiff for those days. And staying true to their conservative nature, Hussain and Co. didn’t want to commit without a sighter at the pitch that appeared bowler-friendly on Day 1.
In fact, as recalled by Hussain himself 16 years later in a column for Daily Mail, he had dismissed the offer saying, “No, don’t be stupid. This is Test cricket, not a three-day county game. It would be degrading to do that. Thanks very much but we’ll just see out the day.”
Normal services resumed. Once Shaun Pollock and Lance Klusener added 41 runs to the overnight score, Hussain reconsidered Cronje’s offer.
He went off the field to have a chat with his counterpart. In an attempt to bargain, he offered to have a crack at 250. To his surprise, Cronje agreed without any retort. From Cronje’s suggestion of 270 from 73 overs, the deal was set to put a target of 245 from 76 overs. A required rate of 3.2 runs per over. It was much lower than what Hussain had expected, luring him further into the plan.
Cronje had a word with the match referee, Barry Jarman to discuss the legitimacy of forfeiting the innings. While there was some confusion regarding the rules, the move eventually took place for the sake of the spirit of the game. It was a welcome move after all, making a game out of nothing.
South Africa declared at 248/8. Both captains forfeited their innings, making it the first such instance in Test history. The match went down to the wire. A 126-run stand between Stewart and Michael Vaughan retrieved the visitors from 102/4. In the end, England won it by 2 wickets - with a Darren Gough boundary in the last over of the day.
It was England's first overseas win in more than a year and for Hussain, it was his first as captain. England lost the series but it was a memorable win. For fans, it was an astonishing day of cricket which went to the last over from the expectations of a dull draw. Cronje’s move to fast-forward the Test to its last innings received mixed responses.
At the post-match ceremony, he said it is the Test cricketer's duty to entertain. “Of course, I am disappointed we lost and our record of not losing in 14 matches has gone, but the choice was there and had to be taken,” he added further.
Hussain was delighted at the post-match presentation. “It was a very special thing that Hansie did and I hope he gets the credit he deserves,” he said.
Hysterically, Cronje got the deserved dues, when the twist unfolded in April that year.
The match-fixing scandal came to light. Cronje admitted all charges of match-fixing. The Centurion Test was under the scanner and within three days, it was proved that the South African skipper had struck the deal for his own benefit.
"A bookmaker urged me to speak to Hussain about an early declaration," was Cronje’s admission. When the wheels were in motion with Hussain taking the bait, he texted the bookmaker: “the game is on”.
In return, after the match, Cronje received a leather jacket and 50,000 rand. What Hussain thought to be his first overseas Test win turned out to be a well thought out plan of a match-fixer to save his money.
Hussain wrote for Daily Mail, "I feel naive and angry. Naive because I couldn't see what Cronje was up to. Angry because my first overseas Test win as England captain will forever be tainted and tarnished by match-fixers."
Michael Atherton called it the "cheapest win of his Test career" while the player-of-the-match, Michael Vaughan said it is disappointing to be involved in that match.