It has been 18 years since Hansie Cronje, the former South African captain and sporting ambassador who was banned from cricket after pleading guilty to match-fixing allegations, died aged 32 on June 1, 2002 in a plane crash near George, in South Africa’s Western Cape.
At the time of his death, Cronje was facing possible criminal charges after having confessed before the government-appointed King Commission of inquiry to accepting money from bookmakers and gamblers during his tenure as South African captain. In 2000, revelations about Cronje’s match-fixing rocked the world game after the Indian police recorded phone conversations between Cronje and bookmakers. Subsequently, Cronje testified of his involvement and admitted to taking money from bookmakers in the King Commission. Cronje consistently denied having fixed any matches, and apologised for the hurt he caused, but was banned for life from playing or coaching.
Away from cricket, Cronje – a devout Christian - had been rebuilding his life as a financial manager for a Johannesburg company. His death shocked the cricketing fraternity and more than 2000 mourners attended his funeral.
In 2006, A South African judge ruled that pilot negligence led to the crash; an earlier inquiry by South Africa’s Civil Aviation Authority said the crash was the result of pilot error, bad weather and technical defects in the Hawker Siddeley 748.
The International Cricket Council’s general manager Dave Richardson, who kept wicket under Cronje, said Cronje was “a fantastic team-mate and captain, always positive, enthusiastic and supportive" and that his reaction to Cronje’s underworld links was “huge disappointment, a little anger and some sympathy for what you would not wish on anyone".
Richardson added that there was some good to come out of the match-fixing scandal of 2000 which resulted in the King Commission, a judicial inquiry set up in South Africa. “Until then, most believed the problem, if there was one, was limited to the subcontinent. The King Commission dealt with the matter effectively and unambiguously. The players were investigated, were found guilty and punished," he said. “Today, no player in international cricket is able to say, hand on heart, he is not aware of the dangers and of his responsibilities. Unfortunately, the corrupters will not leave the players alone - the fight is ongoing."
The former South African opener and current national coach Gary Kirsten termed Cronje as “a great leader of people who had the ability to get the best out of his players" and echoed Richardson’s views that the King Commission had helped clean up the game. “It created awareness for cricketers around the world of the consequences of getting involved in something like this," said Kirsten.
Ali Bacher, the former chief executive of the South Africa board, expressed sorrow for the Cronje family on the tenth death anniversary of the former captain. “It is something that never escapes them," he said.
Recalling the scandal, Bacher identified two incidents where he felt Cronje realized he was trapped and wanted to get out. “The first was in 1999 when he accepted an offer to coach and play for Glamorgan in the English county championship, although he was still under contract to play for South Africa. At that time he was at the height of his career. I was upset with Glamorgan and managed to get them to withdraw their offer," he said.
“The second incident was while the players were on tour in India in 2000. I forwarded a draft itinerary for a tour of Sri Lanka later that year for the captain’s approval and I got a message to say that I should send it to Shaun Pollock, the vice-captain, because he (Hansie) wouldn’t be on the tour."
On the South African board’s decision to ban Cronje for life, Bacher said: “A lot of people criticised me for the fact that Hansie was banned for life, although it was an ICC rule, and I believe to this day there is enormous sympathy for him. There was no communication between us after we handed it to the government, but he phoned me once. He sounded so bad. He was destroyed."
On the field, Cronje’s record was a successful one. From 1992 to 2000 he played in 68 Tests, 53 as captain for the last six years of that period, and led his country to victory in 27 of these matches. In ODIs, Cronje had a success rate of 71 per cent.
(With inputs from AFP)