Hansie Cronje confesses to taking money from bookmakers

Hansie Cronje (centre) wipes a tear while facing the media on April 11, 2000. He is seen here accompanied by African National Congress  politicians Ngonde Balfour (left) and Azia Pahad (right) at the City Park Hospital in Capetown © Getty Images

April 11, 2000. A late-night telephone call shattered the tranquil bliss of the noble game forever. Arunabha Sengupta remembers the day when Hansie Cronje confessed to receiving money for the bookmakers.

It was the day that cricket’s pristine whites were cast aside and the unsavoury dirty linen washed disconcertingly in public. The skeletons surprisingly toppled out of a cupboard that had seldom been glanced at with anything other than respect.

Just two days earlier, Hansie Cronje had vehemently denied all allegations of receiving money from questionable characters, influencing teammatesand tampering with the results of matches. The world was keen to believe him. The cricket authorities of South Africa stood solidly behind their captain. There were moments when the standoff even seemed to hover on the precipice of a diplomatic crisis.

However, it all came to a shattering conclusion for the noble game when Ali Bacher’s phone chimed in the wee hours of the morning of April 11, 2000.

Stout Denial

On April 7, 2000, the Delhi police had released transcripts of telephone conversations between the South African captain and an Indian bookie named Sanjay Chawla. The reported conversations were damning enough, with deals being fixed about who would play, who would not, who had already been on-boarded to underperform and how much would be scored. The charges were crippling. Cronje had fixed South Africa’s One-Day International matches played a month earlier in India.

Cronje had rubbished any such involvement.  On the following day, Dr. Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA), had not minced his words in a statement of absolute support for the skipper:

“South African captain Hansie Cronje is a man of enormous integrity and honesty. He and his team-mates … are emphatic that there is no substance to allegations that they were involved in match fixing during the One-Day International series in India. The UCBSA [United Cricket Board of South Africa] believes that these players have not been involved in the practice of match fixing.”

Cronje himself had been the voice of righteous indignation: “I have been informed by the UCB of the statements that have been made in the media and I am stunned. The allegations are completely without substance. I have been privileged to play for South Africa since 1992 and I want to ensure every South African that I have made a hundred percent effort to win every match that I have played. It has been an honour to play for South Africa and I would never do anything to let my country down.”

Two days later, on April 9, Cronje continued to maintain his brave front.

“I want to make it 100 percent clear that I deny ever receiving any sum of money during the One- Day International series in India. I want to also make it absolutely clear I have never spoken to spoken to any member of the team about throwing a game.”

Such was the South African ire at the accusations hurled at Cronje that several eminent personalities in the Rainbow Nation were ready to turn the crisis into a diplomatic incident.

The call

The cricket world finally crashed through the floor, along with the South African protective stance, when Ali Bacher received a call from the captain during the ungodly hours of April 11. Bacher and Percy Sonn, acting president of UCBSA, were staying in a game park lodge in KwaZulu-Natal. The phone rang at 3.00 in the morning.

In a hushed voice, Cronje informed Bacher, “I have not been entirely honest with you.”

Before the call, Cronje had supposedly grappled with his conscience and had finally succumbed, confiding in TV evangelist and Rhema Bible Church Minister Ray Macauley.

Within minutes of his call to Bacher, Cronje had been sacked as South Africa’s captain for that week’s ODIs against Australia. He was replaced by Shaun Pollock.

In Durban, the following day at noon, Bacher — sleepless and distraught — stood in front of the world to admit: “We are shattered unequivocally. We have a crisis on our hands — we cannot escape that reality.”
Cronje had admitted to receiving a single payment of between $10,000 and $15,000 from an Indian bookmaker.

However, two months down the line, testifying before the King’s Commission, Cronje revealed that his ‘unfortunate love for money’ had led him to accept much more from bookmakers. The final amount — according to a confession made on the verge of tears — was some $130,000 received from various bookmakers stretching back to December 1996. And of course, there was also the famed leather jacket presented by bookie Marlon Aronstam.

As the layers of deceit fell away, more light was shed on various underhand dealings — from influencing players to underperform and engineering the forfeiture of an innings each in that Centurion Test against England.

To the naïve cricket fan amorously attached to the pristine spirit of cricket, it was akin to waking up to discover WG Grace peeling off his beard, letting one know with a wink that it had been false all these years.
After the fall from grace, Cronje tried to find his feet again, working his way to a masters degree in business leadership, and taking up a successful job with Bell Equipment. However, he fell again two years later, this time — very sadly — from the skies, crashing into the Cradock Peak on board the Hawker Siddley 748 cargo aircraft. Destiny ? Or were ruthless, murderous human hands involved?

In any case he did not get a second chance in life.

The damning evidence

Transcript of Cronje’s conversation with Indian bookie named Sanjay Chawla:

Chawla: Is Strydom playing?

Cronje: Yes, he is playing. Yeah.

Chawla: Boje?

Cronje: Boje is playing.

Chawla: And who is playing? Gibbs?

Cronje: Gibbs and myself.

Chawla: Yeah, what about anybody else?

Cronje: No. I won’t be able to get more.

Chawla: You won’t be able to get more?

Cronje: No.

Chawla: Okay, just tell me. But you have only four with you and not anybody else?

Cronje: No.

Chawla: Klusener…?

Cronje: No. No. Impossible. Impossible. The other guys are already angry with me because I have not received their money, you know.

Chawla: No. But I told you I have already given him altogether 60.

Cronje: Okay.

Chawla: And tomorrow I can deposit the money in your account. It is not a problem because of the time difference. Tomorrow itself I can deposit the money.

Chawla: Okay, and now how many runs for Gibbs?

Cronje: Less than 20.

Chawla: Less than 20?

Cronje: Yeah.

Chawla: Okay. So everything is according to plan, they have to score at least 250?

Cronje: Yeah.

Chawla: And if you score 270, it is all off?

Cronje: Okay. And financially the guys want 25. They want 25 each.

Chawla: All right, okay.

Cronje: So that’s 75 for those three and… what can you pay me? I do not know how much you can pay me.

Chawla: You say.

Cronje: If you give me…140 for everybody.

Chawla: 140 altogether?

Cronje: Yeah.

Chawla: Okay, that’s fine.

 

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)