Lessons to be learnt from Hansie Cronje


–Like Cronje before them, today’s errant cricketers must be brought to book

Surely, one thought, today would be like any other day. On June 2000, while driving to northern KwaZulu-Natal (KZN) for my daily 200 km-a-day work commute round-trip, John Lennon’s “Beautiful Boy” and its iconic line “Life is what happens to you whilst you’re busy making other plans ” was gracing the speakers. But this was the day even Lennon took a backseat as an urgent news announcement interjected: “Dr Ali Bacher has an urgent statement…” The result was a thousand cricket headlines, a million opinions and a broken cricketing world. Steve Waugh recalls feeling numb and unable to react when he found out that day’s dreaded news.

The South Africa of the mid-90s till then was still basking in its innocence. The insouciant youngster on the world stage was the land of Mandela and the Rugby World Cup champions Francois Pienaar and Hansie Cronje were as iconic to millions in the Rainbow Nation as were Lucas Radebe and Mark Fish. The soccer guys had ensnared the African Cup but cricket still had the chokers tag – which it still has. Lance Klusener and Allan Donald panicked at the 1999 Cricket World Cup semi-final and the hearts of the nation fell. This sports-loving sunny country takes defeat badly. Hansie’s ashen face at the post-match conference said it all. When he speared the Adelaide umpires dressing room door a year earlier, he reflected the exact emotions all Proteas supporters felt.

Wessel Johannes “Hansie” Cronje was born in 1969 into a sports loving family. His father Ewie had a distinguished cricket administration career and Hansie’s brother Frans was an excellent cricketer. From an early age, he was earmarked as a potential leader. Attending the prestigious Grey College added to this pedigree (many of South Africa’s top sportspeople boast this alma mater). Standing 1.9m tall, Cronje looked the part and was that rarest of assets: a leader of men and a leader of teams. His was a powerful personality with coaches and selection panels beholden to his wishes. Whatever Hansie Cronje wanted, he got it. Above all, he badly wanted to win at cricket and business – at times, too badly.

Under Kepler Wessels, Hansie found the perfect captaincy model. Meticulously prepared but limited in talent and range as a batsman, Kepler was as tough as teak. From a boxing background, he prepared for each test innings like a pugilist does.

Single-minded dedication:

Hansie likewise absorbed these lessons and then set upon creating the fittest cricket team the world had ever seen. Captain Cronje’s own fitness levels even exceeded the top rugby and football players in independent testing. Boucher and Ntini were exceptional also.

Match fixing, spot fixing and other incarnations of this nefarious activity was something other nations did, though surely not South Africa, right? There had been rumblings that the Sharjah Cup had had some suspicious activity but nothing substantive. The one-day circuit had become a circus with endless series and increasingly weary players sapping the spirit and enthusiasm of all concerned. It became monotonously commercialised. In the South African sense, cricket has also become heavily politicised. Simply put, the results of an obscure one-dayer didn’t mean much. The scene was set. The honeymoon was over.

But June 7, 2000, effectively sealed Cronje’s fate when teammates Pat Symcox and Herschelle Gibbs confirmed what the Indian Police had been alleging: The Captain had offered Gibbs $15,000 to score less than 20. Symcox testified that the team had been offered $250,000 to throw a one-dayer in 1996. Henry Williams, the medium pacer, also made a similar statement which he 10 years later retracted as a “joke” Hansie had made.

There were also suspicions that Hansie had colluded with the Indian Captain, Azharuddin, but the most damning incident was the suspicious declaration against England at the Centurion in 2000. It was revealed that Hansie received cash as well as a leather jacket from bookies.

‘I love money as much as I love cricket’

Thus, the Cronje saga ended. Shunned by television, media and the public, the former captain enrolled for a Masters degree in Business Leadership Qualification – which he obtained – and then secured a top corporate job. At the age of 32, his life ended whilst en route in a small aircraft. The plane crashed in the Outeniqua mountains.

“Gee Hansie n kansie”(Give Hansie a chance) became the rallying cry from millions in the Rainbow Nation. He had been forgiven. He would never be forgotten.

Fast forward to the modern twenty-over format, and the lessons of a career sacrificed have sadly been eschewed at the altar of quick, financial gains. Several high-profile cricketers have shaken the sport – not in the least the fast bowling duo of Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir. The IPL has had its fair share in the boardroom as well as on the playing field, with Sreesanth being the most notable perpetrator.

South Africa’s RamSlam has also had its fair share of transgressors. And now the PSL is reeling from allegations against several high-profile players – notably Sharjeel Khan and Khalid Lateef – both of whom are facing multiple charges and the prospect of lengthy bans. The implications run deep and speak of deep fissures within the structures of the sport. When an Australian player can earn ten times more than his equivalent Sri Lankan counterpart, something has gone very wrong. Still, there are no excuses for eating the forbidden fruit.

Just as Hansie Cronje paid for his mistakes all those years ago, errant cricketers must be brought to book. There are no excuses. We, the crestfallen fans, will not be short-changed.