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The Hansie Cronje Story

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By Mark Chapman:

Hansie Cronje: cricketer, captain, Afrikaaner, leader, hero, Christian, wealthy, cheat, manipulator and psychopath. All words that have been used in the past week as I have travelled around South Africa.

His brother, Frans said this: “The whole new South Africa, the fall of apartheid and Nelson Mandela as President makes it a lot easier for people to forgive in South Africa.

For a lot of the British media it’s been very difficult for them to accept the forgiveness part.” Frans is something of an expert in absolution. As a deeply religious man it is something that comes naturally to him.

As the brother of Hansie, he has had to be. Cronje of course is also dead, killed in a plane crash 10 years ago this week. For most, it was an unfortunate, tragic accident for some it is seen as something more sinister.

“Very fishy” is how Clive Rice described it to me. The former Nottinghamshire captain takes into account the appalling weather in the George area as Cronje’s plane came into land, and bears in mind that certain landing signals were not working at the airport. But he feels the company that Cronje kept outweighs the scientific evidence.

“Certain people needed him out,” Rice said. “Whether it was one, two, or 15 people that were going to die it didn’t matter, Hansie was the one that was going to have to go and if they could cover it up as a plane crash then that was fine.” Those “certain people” were bookmakers.

Despite leading his country, and being at one stage “only second to Mandela in terms of popularity” according to his brother, Cronje allowed himself to be led down a path of corruption and cheating.

“He always had an adventurous part of him that was inquisitive,” Frans said. “Playing cricket year in year out, living in hotels and airports I think becomes tedious and boring after a while. Maybe a bit of boredom set in and maybe this was something a bit interesting.”

 

Hansie Cronje newspaper headlines

Whether Cronje was bored on South Africa’s tour to India in 1996 is not documented but the offers he received most definitely are. $30,000 would be his if the team lost wickets on the final day of the third Test to ensure an Indian victory.

Reasoning that this would happen without him having to speak to his players, Cronje said nothing. The wickets duly fell, South Africa lost and Cronje received the money for, in his own words, “effectively doing nothing”.

On the same tour, Cronje put an offer of $200,000 to his players to lose a one-day benefit match. Some of them walked out immediately, others stayed and suggested he asked for more from his bookmaker contact. Dave Richardson, the new chief executive of the ICC, was in that meeting. “At the time it did not seem a big issue,” he said when speaking in 2002. “It was a novelty.”

Such flippancy cannot be found in Henry Williams. The 44-year- old is wary as we shake hands at Boland Cricket Club, 45 minutes outside of Cape Town. Despite agreeing to the interview, he seems keen to point out that he doesn’t want to rake over old ground. “I will not tell you who said what to whom, I don’t want to bring back those memories.”

The sky is blue, the sun hovers over the nearby mountains and yet Williams admits there is a cloud permanently over his head because, in 2000, he was persuaded to underperform in a one-day international.

He 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 less than 20 and the side would get no more than 270. Not one of those three scenarios ended up happening but once Cronje confessed, Williams and Gibbs were in trouble and banned for six months each.

Gibbs came back to form a successful international career, Williams never played for his country again. “It feels like when you walk people are staring at you and it was bad. It was stressful. My Mum and Dad didn’t bring me up like that. How could that be? That’s not my child?”

He looks into the distance only returning my gaze when I bring up the subject of his own faith. “I’ll forgive,” he says “but it’s a permanent scar, you can’t forget it. He never ever spoke to me about this. He’s dead now and it still worries me.”

Hansie Cronje

What worried many in the new South Africa was that the two players Cronje had selected to be part of his plan were players of colour. Any suggestion of racism are refuted though by those that knew him and worked with him. Plenty tell stories of the times he drove for hours to coach in townships with no publicity and, more importantly, no remuneration.

Dr Ali Bacher was the head of the United Cricket Board of South Africa when Cronje was captain. He said: “In the new democracy he was seen as a young Afrikaaner who had a vision to transform cricket, to transform the country.”

Bacher and Cronje would eventually fall out over transformation. Displeased over Bacher insisting on a squad having to have a racial quota, Cronje resigned in private. “It is because of all the political nonsense. It has now become impossible for me to enjoy cricket.”

His resignation was rejected and he was persuaded to carry on. Marlon Aronstam dialled Hansie Cronje's mobile on 17 January 2000. He told him he had a negative image and was perceived as conservative. They had never spoken before. Aronstam, a bookmaker, was cold calling the South African captain and yet, within hours, he was in a hotel room with him and offering 500,000 rand to a charity of Cronje's choice and “a gift”.

All Cronje had to do was to persuade Nasser Hussain and England to make a game of it on the final day of a Test ruined by the weather. Both sides were to forfeit an innings to give England a run chase. The following morning Hussain, unaware of the meeting, agreed.

 

Hansie Cronje and Alec Stewart

Alec Stewart remembers a “tough run chase” as England won by two wickets. He doesn't remember his exact score but he does remember the “bitter, bitter taste” when they found out just months later what Cronje had done.

Aronstam didn't remember too much either as he sat across from me in a central London hotel room, more out of convenience I feel than the passing of time. “Cronje loved cricket but the money was a bonus.

Without money the world doesn't run,” said the man who had asked for FA Cup final tickets to speak to me. Thickset physically and with even thicker skin metaphorically, I asked him if he felt guilty. “Nah, I don't believe I did anything wrong”.

Cronje knew he had sinned. “I could no longer live with myself or with the situation I had created,” he told the King Commission, an inquiry set up by the South African government into match fixing. There were around 40 people subpoenaed to give evidence.

Cronje's statement was the only one televised. He ended his evidence in tears, a crumpled, broken, exhausted man who had to be helped out of the room. That was an act according to Professor Tim Noakes – who had been the national side's sports scientist during the mid-nineties.

With passions running high at the time of the revelations, he had called Cronje a “genetic rogue” but told me he how regretted that. Instead he used the word “psychopath”. As I pushed him that that sounded harsher than his original description, he explained that it was because Cronje displayed all the characteristics of a psychopath – “no remorse, no conscience and charm”.

 

Hansie Cronje

Frans prefers to remember the Test matches he used to play with his brother in the family garden in Bloemfontein than the man who fell into a deep depression in the 18 months that followed the King Commission. There are tears in his eyes as he talks: “Hansie felt like he had let everyone down. Madiba (Nelson Mandela) being the first one.”

We are talking in the offices of Francois Pienaar. A Rugby World Cup winner, a hero, a South African sporting icon. The irony is not lost on a single one of us. “When I get on a plane,” says Pienaar, “invariably there will be a black gentleman sitting and as I walk past he will say, 'good morning my captain', and you just go 'wow'. It is such a nice feeling. It is incredible.”

There were no such platitudes as Cronje strapped himself into the back of a cargo plane on his final journey. A final journey that maybe he had forseen a decade earlier when writing in a Christian magazine.

He had rediscovered his religion and built his relationship with God after being in car accident that had killed a small girl. He wrote: “We are constantly travelling on the road and in the air, I now have perfect peace that should I die in a plane crash, I would go to heaven”.

“Is he in heaven?” I ask Frans. “Yes,” he takes a sip of coffee, “you don't have to be perfect to go to heaven.”

Mark Chapman presents 'The Hansie Cronje Story' on 5 live Sport on Wednesday night from 7.30pm.

Click here to watch a clip of Mark as he previews the documentary.

Comments

  • Comment number 1.

    In the words of Richard Bacon,"Fascinating" (everything is) were he British and there wasn't the whiff of yet another 5-Live freebie hanging over it

  • Comment number 2.

    I heard the long trail for this during one of the Test Match intervals and I think Mark Chapman has done a great job. Cronje's story is extraordinary and I am thankful it was Mark given the task rather than anyone else.

    Cricket is such an amazing game and I totally love watching it and listening to TMS too, I remember that match so well and who ever would have thought such shenanigans were going on behind the scenes.

    Well done Mark.

  • Comment number 3.

    Nothing to do with the blog subject but want to say just how much I enjoyedthe BBC Radio Football Commentary collection last night on 5 Live. Was listening to it sitting outside enjoying the end of the sun whilst nibbling peanuts and sipping (slurping?) copious amounts of chilled dry white wine. the programme was an absolute delight and had me laughing out loud at times; so thank you for a great offering. Stuart Hall - what a star!!

  • Comment number 4.

    A terrific blog. Many of those involved don't seem to realise they've done anything wrong. Guilt and shame has blinded them.

  • Comment number 5.

    Why do you refer to Hansie Cronje as the "tragic" cricketer? Tragic was for those he inveigled into joining his schemes and whose sporting lives he ruined. He was revered by most South Africans as the model of the best sort of Afrikaaner and he reveled in that adulation and played up to it. Fact is, he was a liar and a cheat.He required no great persuation to accept the dirty money and it remains obvious that what was exposed was just the tip of the iceberg. David T

  • Comment number 6.

    Excellent blog Mark. The true facts of this miserable affair may never be known, but it is just a massive shame that Hansie was so weak. He was wealthy, he was talented, he was captain of his country. What more could you want? He threw it all away for the sake of a few thousand dollars.

  • Comment number 7.

    Thoroughly looking forward to listening to the story tonight.

  • Comment number 8.

    Brilliantly written. Fascinating to read about a subject that shook and has to an extent shaped modern day cricket. Really looking forward to listening to the whole story.

  • Comment number 9.

    Very sad story, an example of how easily one can fall from grace.
    Not for me to cast stones though, RIP Hansie.

  • Comment number 10.

    A really well balanced article. Looking forward to the program this evening. It is a tragic story that needs to find a positive resolution at some point in the future.

  • Comment number 11.

    I think any Irish cricket fan should be aware that Hansie's involvement with the national team was the moment that cricket in Ireland re-established itself. I was present at Clontarf Cricket Club in 1997 for the B&H Group game V Middlesex. Ireland Independent newspapers had previously sponsored other high profile players like Steve Waugh to compete for the cricket team and Hansie was merely the latest to join a team who never bothered the opposition in predictable defeat. Hansie along with Irish player Dekker Curry smashed the Middlesex bowling attack. Rain intervened with Middlesex about 120/5. On the spare day along with myself and a couple of hundred others, the media turned out in force expecting an Irish victory which duly arrived. It was Ireland's first significant victory for donkey's years. RTE, BBC NI, UTV, SKY NEWS all carried the story. Radio too and all the main newspapers had the victory as frontpage news the next day.

    I remember Hansie's brother being present at the match too and walking past me on the boundary. Hansie was hungry for the victory and it was known he was on a big bonus for any such unlikely victory. He duly delivered with ball, bat and in the field.

    Alas though we all found out that later that he was a bully, a liar, a cheat and a criminal. At least I can look back fondly on his involvement with cricket in Ireland. I can see a straight line to where Ireland are today to Hansie's B&H Cup involvment.

  • Comment number 12.

    Tragic?? Greedy cheat sounds more appropriate.

  • Comment number 13.

    @6 & 12 .

    A liar and a cheat he may have been, but Hansie's story could be used as the definition of a tragedy, where the main character is brought to ruin as a consequence of a tragic character flaw, moral weakness, or however you choose to view the reasoning behind the choices he made.

    As a South African boy of 13 at the time of these events, I was of a generation who grew up idolising Hansie and everything he stood for. Witnessing his public downfall and humiliation was a deeply upsetting period for many, such as myself, who had regarded Hansie so highly. Don't misunderstand the term tragic, it is not meant as a defence of his actions. It is a word that perfectly encapsulates the drama of Hansie, the scandal that defined him, and ultimately the way he died.

  • Comment number 14.

    "Very sad story, an example of how easily one can fall from grace.
    Not for me to cast stones though, RIP Hansie."

    I agree wholeheartedly with Mark. The world is full of finger pointers.
    I don't condone what he did re the match fixing etc but I will leave all (outstanding) judgement to God.... I believe the courts tackled the rest....

    As another Irish cricket fan I agree with previous poster re his big influence in helping us along....

  • Comment number 15.

    Cricket is the most pointless and boring sport ever created

  • Comment number 16.

    funky - I think those who watched the summer of 2005 may beg to disagree.....

  • Comment number 17.

    funkymc1:

    So very wrong. It is captivating and compelling, those who think otherwise, well don't watch, listen in or go to a match. Leave it to those of us who LOVE it!!!!!!!!!!!!!

  • Comment number 18.

    Funkymc1
    What a Philistine - no doubt being on the terraces at Millwall floats your boat

  • Comment number 19.

    @Funkymc1 then go back to watching boring old F1 races and moronic footall that you undoutably watch and leave blogs like this to people who deeply care about cricket.

    Great Blog Chappers, and makes me wonder why a man so weathly could carry on chasing the Rand in this manner?

  • Comment number 20.

    As an Australian Cricket fan who remembers the punishment Hansie dished out to the Australian Team, one has to admire his brilliance as a cricketer and his exceptional ability as a captain of his national team. I think any team would have welcomed him as a player.

    He did make mistakes which he regretted to his dying day, but who hasn't?

    For those interested in the Hansie story there are more than 60 interviews with fellow team mates, cricket officials & friends on the DVD "Hansie a True Storys" disk 2 "A journey to Grace - a documentary about Hansie Cronje" , well worth watching

  • Comment number 21.

    great listening just goes to show what can happen when someone is infatuated with money

  • Comment number 22.

    I'd like to thank whoever had the idea for this programme which I thought was one of the best 2 hours of radio I've heard this year.
    It was both interesting, sad & moving and I'd particular like to praise Mark Chapman (who I'm aware some people don't like) for his understated presentation in letting the story be the 'star'
    It was in stark contrast to Monday night's football commentary programme which was ruined for me by Mr Murray's requirement to be the centre of attention. It should have been an excellent subject for a programme and was ruined by him and the guests that led to another 'Manchestrification' of a Five Live programme.

  • Comment number 23.

    Riveting documentary on Cronje. But deeply flawed. Why was Pienaar allowed to trot out his and Cronje's repellent dictum that the only criteria for selection was talent?
    For centuries his people subjugated and destroyed the indigenous peoples. Most blacks and coloureds never saw a lawn tennis ground or played cricket on grass. Why does Pienaar think D'Olivieria could only have his talent recognised by coming to England. He and Cronje came from moneyed, privileged backgrounds, as the brother said their backyard was big enough to stage a Test Match. The majority of the interviewees seemed afflicted by the Saint Hanse myth. Why didn't the programme try to explain his obsession with money; nineteen bank accounts! Or his mendacity and denials
    I understand that Mark Chapman felt constrained from stepping too heavily on a family's grief but I find it impossible to believe the brother's assurance that they never blamed Hanse. He admitted the pain of seven years and more was only just being assuaged for his parents
    However hard the interviewees tried to protect the Saint and infer that there for the Grace of God go I ( Pienaar wasn't sure he wouldn't have gone the same route)the picture of sheer nastiness of the man was unable to be stifled by anoydyne and sentimental stuff from Le Roux, Rice and Agnew
    A fat lot of good all that religious stuff does if you haven't got a gut moral code embedded in your soul
    Don't cry for Hanse Cronje. He ruined the integrity of cricket for thousands of us, he callously tried to destroy two coloured players and never apologised to them
    His epitaph is of a physchopath, a manipulative greedy man who spat on the chance to pay back and help a desperately wounded nation
    How do you forgive that?
    Richard Morris author Meditations of A Sportsman Reflections on Sport Spirituality Life

  • Comment number 24.

    Last night was Five Live at its best, absolutely fascinating radio.

  • Comment number 25.

    Could someone at 5live explain to me why you operate webcam for a programme such as Victoria Derbyshires when there is no one in the Salford studio and is she obviously broadcasting yet again from London ? Seems totally bizarre to me.

  • Comment number 26.

    Sums up her whole show ... "Is anybody there? Answer - not often.

    Cronje story was great - just need Chappers to tone down the blokiness a bit.

 

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