Former South Africa captain Hansie Cronje died in a plane crash on June 1, 2002 at the age of 32. Not too long ago, he was involved in a match-fixing scandal that shocked the entire cricketing fraternity that saw him fall from grace bringing his nation and the game into disrepute. From a South African hero to a cheater, Cronje’ life and career took became still abruptly, and it then became a case of what if. On Cronje’s 18th death anniversary, here’s a timeline of his career.
First-class debut and captaincy
At the age of 18, Cronje made his debut for Orange Free State against Transvaal, along with his brother Frans, who was playing just his fourth game. Hansie scored just one in the first innings and in the second innings, he top-scored for his side with 16, an innings in which he spent two hours at the crease as Orange State were bowled out for just 51. In the following match, he registered a pair. Three years later at the age of 21, he became one of the youngest captain of Orange State.
His first ton came against the visiting English side, led by John Emburey in 1990. Cronje scored 104 in the first innings, followed by 12 in the second as the four-day match ended in a draw. He also scored his first century for Free State that year.
In March 1989, Cronje top-scored with 73 in the Benson and Hedges Night Series final as his side went on to beat Western Province by 61 runs.
The big break
With an average of 61.40 in the 1991-92 season in one-dayers, it was just a matter of time before Cronje got into the South African national side. He was called-up to the Proteas squad for the 1992 World Cup and made his debut against the hosts Australia in Sydney. He scored 102 runs at 34 with the bat and with ball, he chipped in a couple of wickets with his medium-pacers, as South Africa crashed out of the tournament under bizarre circumstances with a loss to England in the semi-final.
In April 1992, Cronje was picked in the Test series for the tour of West Indies. Cronje had a forgettable debut scoring just five and two. South Africa were 122 for 2, chasing 201 on the final day of the Test, but collapsed to 148 all-out against a strong Richie Richardson-led side at Bridgetown, Barbados. This was also South Africa’s first Test match after readmission.
Shines with the ball
Cronje was more than a handy medium-pacer with the ability to trouble the best of batsmen. The first ODI of the 1992-93 series against India at home, Cronje finished with his best ODI figures of 5 for 32 to bowl the visitors out for just 184. The match went down to the wire and it was Cronje who hit the winning runs – a six when six were required off four balls.
Patient maiden Test century
Batting at No. 3 against India in the third Test in Port Elizabeth, Cronje struck a patient 135 out of South Africa’s total of 275 as his team eventually went on to win the match by nine wickets in the Boxing Day Test of 1992. His 410-ball innings lasted 529 minutes, which included 12 fours and a six. This was also South Africa’s first Test win since readmission.
First taste of captaincy
Despite being the youngest member of the squad, Cronje was named South Africa’s vice-captain for the tour of Australia in 1993-94. With Kepler Wessels injured, Cronje led the side in the ODI series, which they lost 1-2. With Wessels still out, he also led South Africa in the third Test of the series. In doing so, Cronje became South Africa’s youngest Test captain after Murray Bisset in 1898-89.
The Bob Woolmer era
The appointment of Bob Woolmer signaled the end of Wessels as South Africa captain, which paved way for Cronje to take over as the permanent captain beginning with the 1994-95 series against New Zealand. Despite going 0-1 down, the hosts recovered to win the three-match series 2-1. This was the beginning of a successful period in South African cricket, which saw them, win the Mandela Trophy – a 50-over contest also featuring Pakistan, New Zealand and Sri Lanka.
South Africa also won one-off Tests against Pakistan and New Zealand, with Cronje scoring a ton in the latter. Wins against Zimbabwe and England followed, but they could not go beyond the quarter-final stage in the 1996 World Cup. Cronje’s batting form began to dip, but he still managed to lead South Africa to their first-ever Test win in Pakistan, but soon turned a corner in the next series against Australia.
World Cup heartbreak and beginning of the end
South Africa were huge favourites to win the 1999 World Cup. Despite the shock loss at the hands of Zimbabwe, South Africa reached the semi-final where they took on Australia for the second time in the tournament. Chasing 214, the match ended in a tie, but Australia went through as they finished higher on the table at the Super Six stage. Earlier, in the tournament, Woolmer and Cronje were found communicating with earpieces – which was a first such instance in cricket – but had taken it off after complaints from the Indian players.
The following year, in the fifth Test against England at Centurion after three days were completely washed out, Cronje proposed that England forfeit one innings of theirs and South Africa forfeit one of their innings so that a result can be attained. South Africa declared at 248 for 8, but England went on to chase it down with two wickets to spare. It was later revealed that Cronje agreed to throw the match away for money, which was the beginning of his downfall.
Cronje had dismissed Sachin Tendukar on eight occasions in international cricket (5 in Tests, 3 in ODIs), making him the Master Blaster’s biggest nemesis. Tendulkar even named Cronje as one of the toughest bowlers he has ever faced. Tendulkar said, “There have been times when Hansie would come on to bowl and I would ask, ‘why don’t you give me Allan Donald?”.
Video courtesy: AE Productions on YouTube
The tour of India turned out to be a nightmare not just for Cronje and players involved, but for the entire cricketing fraternity. Cronje was accused of throwing away a few matches on their tour of India. After initially denying, Cronje called CSA’s managing director in the wee hours of April 11, 2000 to confess that he was not completely honest.
Video Courtesy: AP Archive on YouTube
He told Bacher that he had taken $10,000 and $15,000 from Indian bookies for providing information. Cronje later deposed in front of the King’s Commission and was handed a lifetime ban.
One of the best Proteas captains
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 win/loss ratio.
A unique double
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.
While there were many theories including the murder angle given a go, an inquiry finally concluded that it was the pilot’s negligence that led to the crash of the aircraft.
The inquest concluded saying, "the death of the deceased Wessel Johannes Cronje was brought about by an act or omission prima facie amounting to an offence on the part of pilots."