JOHANESBURG: All-rounder Hansie Cronje, who died on this day in 2002, flirted with greatness but succumbed to temptation, exposing the dark world of bribery in cricket before his tragic death in a plane crash at the age of 32.
The perennially scowling South African averaged above 36 with the bat both in tests and one-dayers and was more than a handy medium pacer. But it was his inspirational skill as a leader which stood out.
Under the Bloemfontein-born Cronje, South Africa registered series victories against every other major cricketing nation except Australia.
In his 53 tests in charge, the Proteas won 27 and lost only 11 matches, although his hopes of leading South Africa to a World Cup title never materialised. “Hansie was a great leader,” team mate Gary Kirsten said in his tribute after Cronje’s tragic early death.
“He was an inspiration to me when I first came into the national team and he gave me confidence. It was impossible not to respect him.”
Succeeding Kepler Wessels in the job, Cronje forged a fruitful partnership with Bob Woolmer, a coming together of an uncompromising leader and an innovative coach.
Their chemistry and tough-minded approach to the job was best illustrated in the 1999 World Cup.
In their tournament opener against India, Cronje had to be asked by the match referee to remove an earpiece he wore to communicate with Woolmer. But together they led the side through to the semi-final, where they were eliminated after a tied match against Australia.
Two years before his death, Cronje’s admission that he had taken bribes from an Indian bookmaker to fix matches shook the sport to its foundations.
Delhi Police had been probing an unrelated extortion case when they stumbled upon a tape that eventually led to the unearthing of the scandal.
After initially denying fixing charges, Cronje confessed his role to an inquiry commission in South Africa and was subsequently banned from the game for life.
“In a moment of stupidity and weakness I allowed Satan and the world to dictate terms to me,” Cronje, a devout Christian, said in a confession to a church leader, couching it in Biblical terms.
“The moment I took my eyes off Jesus, my whole world turned dark.”
The lapse of judgment was all the more damaging coming from a charismatic leader who commanded absolute loyalty in his team mates.
The widespread scandal also resulted in life bans for former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin and ex-Pakistan skipper Salim Malik, while several others were implicated.
The International Cricket Council (ICC) subsequently ramped up anti-corruption measures but traces of the scandal continue to haunt the game.
In February, extradited London-based Indian bookmaker Sanjeev Chawla, accused of involvement in an affair eventually nicknamed “Hansiegate”, was taken into police custody in New Delhi. He was granted bail in May but the case continues. – Reuters