Hansie Cronje: A great leader or a fallen hero?

Last Updated: Jun 14, 2012, 16:25 PM IST

Vineet Ramakrishnan

Hansie Cronje was a great captain in the game of cricket before he admitted to corrupting the game. There is no doubt about his captaincy skills, but even after 10 years of his death he is remembered as the match-fixer involved in the infamous fixing scandal that rocked the cricketing community back then. Zeenews.com Sports Team takes a trip down the enigmatic character’s successful cricket career, the disgraced act and his sad demise.

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The budding all-rounder

After an impressive domestic season, Hansie Cronje made his international debut at the 1992 World Cup against Australia at Sydney and went on to play his first international Test, which was incidentally South Africa’s first Test since readmission into the international arena against West Indies. Later he toured India taking career best figures of 5/32 in the ODI series. He went on to play a major role in South Africa’s first Test victory after the ban.

In the 1993-94 Triangular Series against New Zealand and Australia, he was named the vice captain of the team despite being the youngest member of the squad. He was prolific in the series and played some crucial knocks for his team. Australia toured South Africa for a year in 1994 and Cronje scored 751 runs against the Aussies in a span of 14 days which included the warm match were he represented Orange Free State and the first Test against the Aussies.

The leader takes centrestage

Under Cronje`s captaincy, South Africa won 27 Tests and lost 11, completing series victories against every team except Australia.

In 1994-95, Hansie Cronje was named the captain of the South Africa squad against the visiting New Zealand, replacing Keppler Wessels. That started the magnificent era of Cronje-Woolmer who took South Africa nearly to the top of the world. Cronje won the Mandela Trophy that was competed for between New Zealand, Pakistan and Sri Lanka and later won the series against New Zealand after being defeated in the first Test. In 1995, South Africa won the Test series and ODI series (6-1) against England. In the 1996 World Cup, South Africa won their group with Cronje in rampaging form.

The 1999 World Cup and the Centurion Test

Cronje was at his peak during 1998-2000 as he top scored in the ODI series against West Indies and took 11 wickets at an average of under 15. During the World Cup in 1999, Cronje and Woolmer pioneered the introduction of technology as the SA skipper came on to the field and wired up to Woolmer in the semi final against Australia. Later SA lost the match owing to the famous tie as Klusner and Donald ended up at the same end with a run needed for victory. Australia went into the finals and won the Cup, defeating Pakistan.

During the rain-affected fifth Test match against England in 2000 at Centurion, Cronje and Nasser Hussain, in a bid to make a ‘match out of it’, forfeited their one innings after Cronje’s early declaration and set England a target of 249. England won that match by two wickets. Later it was revealed that Cronje had accepted money from the bookie for the early declaration.

The great fall

On 7 April 2000, Delhi police revealed that they had a recording of a conversation between Cronje and Sanjay Chawla, a representative of an Indian betting syndicate, over match-fixing allegations. Three other players, Herschelle Gibbs, Nicky Boje, and Pieter Strydom, were also implicated. Cronje said that the allegations were completely without substance. On 11 April, Cronje was sacked as captain and he admitted accepting between USD 10,000 to USD 15,000 from a London-based bookmaker for `forecasting` results, not match-fixing, during the recent one-day series in India.

The King Commission, set up to look into the fixing, began when Gibbs revealed that Cronje had offered him USD 15,000 to score less than 20 runs in the 5th ODI at Nagpur. He also admitted another offer of USD 15,000 to Henry Williams to concede more than 50 runs in that same match. Gibbs scored 74 off 53 balls and Williams injured his shoulder and couldn`t complete his second over, so neither received the USD 15,000.
Henry Williams was meant to go for over 50 runs when he bowled his 10 overs of medium pace against India. Cronje also told Herschelle Gibbs to score fewer than 20, and the side would get no more than 270. Williams and Gibbs were in trouble and banned for six months each. On 11 October, Cronje was banned from playing or coaching cricket for life. He challenged his life ban in September 2001 but on 17 October 2001, his application was dismissed. Cronje testified before the Commission that his "great passion of the game and for my teammates" was matched by "an unfortunate love of money". Two former Test captains, Salim Malik of Pakistan and Mohammad Azharuddin of India, were also banned for life by their respective boards following a probe by India`s Central Bureau of Investigation (CBI).

A suspicious and tragic end

Cronje, who was found guilty of match-fixing, died in a plane crash on the Outeniqwa Mountains near George 10 years ago, in 2002.

The findings of the SA Civil Aviation Authority report indicated that the aircraft was technically not airworthy, with several defects.

The findings also stated that the crew deviated from landing procedures at George, which had poor weather conditions on that fateful day.

The death, many still believe, was actually a murder as many wanted him out.