Wessel Johannes Hansie Cronje

b. September 25, 1969, Bloemfontein, Orange Free State, South Africa

d. June 1, 2002, George, Western Cape, South Africa


The next five, ten, twenty years will probably determine how people remember me. People will remember me for last April, but also I hope for the way I have lived my life afterwards, the fact that I was willing to get out in public, to try to make a difference and not hide away.


I remember the day Hansie died clearly. It was a Saturday, a hot Saturday, possibly the first decent Saturday of the summer. We were sitting by the river in Kingston, a merry group of South Africans living in London and pining for the sun.

We had all we needed: a big bag of crisps, a 3 litre box of South African wine, a few cups, but mostly the sun. Life was good.

One of us heard the beep of his mobile phone: a text message from home.

HANSIE IS DEAD. PLANE CRASH THIS AFTERNOON IN GEORGE.

It was enough to penetrate our alcohol-fuelled numbness:

NO!

A cry almost in unison, we then all grabbed for our own mobile phones to text home and make sure it wasn't a sick hoax. Sad confirmation issued forth, and we set about the grim task of spreading the bush telegraph amongst the rest of our South African friends in London.


It puts everything into perspective, doesn't it? At times like this we can look around and ask, truly, how important was the match-fixing scandal? Of course it damaged the game and it was wrong, but I'll judge him by what he was to me -- a mate and a great cricketer. The words match-fixing and Hansie Cronje will always be associated together and that's understandable but he was far more than that. He actually persuaded me that I was good enough to play international cricket and that changed my life. The thing that gets to me more than just about anything is the pain and hurt that the Cronje family has had to endure over the last two years. Can any family be expected to go through that?
-- Craig Matthews, former Western Province cricket captain, South African vice captain in 1995 and presently national administrator and marketing manager for Western Province.

Growing Up

Hansie Cronje was born into a cricketing family. Father, NE (Ewie) Cronje, represented the Orange Free State (OFS) between 1960-71 and at one point served as President of the OFS Cricket Union (OFSCU). Older brother, FJC Cronje, also played first class cricket, representing all of OFS, OFS B, Griqualand West, Border and Border B, between 1986-95.

Hansie attended the local Grey College, an dual-medium boys' school, the Bloemfontein Grey College is the oldest school north of the Orange River and the third-oldest school in South Africa. Hansie finished top of his class. At home, Hansie spoke Afrikaans to his father and mother (San-Marie). After school, he attended the local University of the Orange Free State (UOFS).

The makings of a Cricket Legend

During his last three years at school (1985-1988), Hansie represented the OFS at the national Nuffield Week competition. In the latter two years, his performance at Nuffield Week earned him selection into the SA Schools team. An honour of course, I'm stumped as to whom they competed against.

Hansie Cronje is a man my generation grew up with. He made his first class debut for the Orange Free State in Johannesburg in 1987. He batted right handed and bowled medium pace. I could not discover whether his team won or lost, or his batting and bowling figures.

During the late 80's, the cultural boycott was still firmly in place, part of the international sanctions seeking the end of apartheid. Under the boycott, South Africa was prohibited from competing in the international sporting arenas. As a result, our domestic sporting scene flourished under overwhelming provincial rivalry. During the winter there was cut-throat Currie Cup rugby, during the summer there was Night Cricket.

When Hansie Cronje made his international debut1 at the 1991/2 Cricket World Cup in Australia, he was already a household name. South Africans for two reasons:

  1. Jonty Rhodes and that run-out
  2. Rain interrupting play in the semi-final, reducing the number of overs. The scoreboard ticked down, eventually landing on "South Africa need 22 runs off 1 ball", shattering the nation's hopes of a fairytale come-back to the international sporting arena.

In 1994, aged 24 years, Hansie replaced an injured Kepler Wessels as the South African cricket captain. It was the third match of a home series against our rugby archrivals, New Zealand. Wessels decided to bow out from international cricket and Hansie stayed on at the helm.

In the 1995 off-season, Hansie ventured ashore to play for Leicestershire. He performed with distinction, scoring 1,301 runs at an average of 52.04.

Hansie had a phenomenal winning record as captain, leading his team with military precision. In 1996, fully five years after their return to international cricket, South Africa play their first 5-match, 5-day Test cricket series, against England.

Fast forward to 1999 and again it's Cricket World Cup time, this time co-hosted by India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka, a feat of remarkable politics... perhaps. The event was marred by Australia's refusal to play in Sri Lanka, fearing for their safety in the wake of the ongoing Tamil Tigers hostilities occasionally referred to as a Civil War. A defaulted match, but still Australia make it through to the semi-final, only to meet South Africa.

Sadly yet another case of spectacular run-outs and bitter defeat for South Africa to take home, in place of the coveted Cup. This time, Lance Klusener and Allan Donald find themselves in the firing line in the last over.

White Lightning is a master pace bowler, one of the best in the world, ever. He is not quite as adept with the bat, rarely scoring into double figures on the odd occasions that he has had to bat in One Day International (ODI) cricket. Indeed, he rarely featured higher in the order than Number 11. Zulu, on the other hand, is a thorn in many a team's side in the ODI arena. His ability to punish a bowler with boundary after boundary is not for the feint hearted. The scene that unfolded was one that we stage Cricket World Cups to achieve: match drawn, two balls left, Zulu at the crease.

The bowler delivered a great ball. Zulu clips it, behind himself, it doesn't go far. After upwards of 9 hours of play, the two batsmen will have to be damn quick to get a run in. White Lightning, with the best view of the ball, has the call. There's a ball left, there's still time. He stands his ground.

Zulu does not even look at his batting partner or where the ball went. He runs, hollering all the way to White Lightning. White Lightning is caught off guard, does not budge. Both batsmen are left standing on the same side of the wicket. The fielder has simply to stroll to the stumps and break the bales. The game is tied, Australia go through. South Africa is heartbroken once again.2

Hansie has now participated in two World Cups but has not yet tasted victory. Still a sprightly 30, there is good reason to hold out for third time lucky in 2003, on home ground.

Fall from Grace

Hansie Cronje was proud of his Christian faith, and the Born Again Christian community were proud of him. His excellent relationship with Pastor Ray McCauley of the phenomenal RHEMA Church was a matter of common knowledge. Hansie was viewed as one of the boys, a mate, a role model for children of the Rainbow Nation, he was a saint.

In January 2000, South Africa played England in a 5 Test Series. South Africa had already won the series, being 2-0 up (with two matches drawn) going into the last leg. Rain interrupted play over the 5 days, with a draw seeming the obvious result. Surprisingly, however, Hansie agreed to forfeit an innings -- in order to force a result -- and South Africa ended up losing, for the first time in 16 matches.

In March 2000, South Africa toured to India for an ODI series. On April 7, 2000, the rumour mill starts, but nobody can believe what the Indian police are saying. Eventually, he is charged by the Indian police with match-fixing. Initially Hansie denied the charges -- and had the entire nation behind him -- but ultimately, on April 11, 2000, after a rumoured midnight confession to Pastor Ray McCauley, he gave in and he admitted that he had not quite been honest. He was then dropped from the team for the ODI series against Australia.

In the coming months, the Indian police continue their investigation and the South African United Cricket Board (UCB) calls in the King commission to undertake their own investigation. During May and June, Hansie cooperated fully with the King Commission, telling how he approached team mates Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams about under performing in a ODI match. He also admits to accepting US$130,000 from bookmakers over a 4 year period. He denied that he ever fixed a match, and was quoted as saying:

I tried to live a Christian life and walk the way the Lord wanted me to walk... ...I allowed Satan and the world to dictate terms to me.

Heaven alone knows why Hansie would do such a silly thing. His contract with the UCB would have amounted to more than the $130,000, and he was no fool. Heaven only knows why Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams didn't tell him he'd lost his mind, or indeed why his best friends, fellow Born Agains Johnty Rhodes and vice captain Shaun Pollock didn't lift him off the backsliding slope. Nevertheless, they didn't.

There is an element of farce to the Herschelle Gibbs saga. Indeed, to Gibbs' career from that point on. Jacques Kallis is painted as the dim lantern in the team, but Herschelle Gibbs, after accepting money to score less than 20, went on to play a great innings. Questioned on it, he reported that on the field he'd forgotten about the bribe. Gibbs was banned for 6 months and on his return to international cricket, went on a tour of the West Indies, where he was among the few players caught smoking weed in his hotel room. Fined ten thousand Rand, he was then ordered onto a life skills course.

In October of 2000, after the findings of the King Commission, the UCB banned Hansie Cronje from all forms of participation in cricket for the rest of his life. His team mates who had also been implicated had gotten off extremely lightly -- a six month ban in Gibbs' and Williams' case, for example. You'll be hard-pressed to find a South African whom you can convince that Hansie didn't take one for the team, offer himself up as a scapegoat. Sadly he seems to be the international cricket scapegoat, for he was hardly the only international cricketer implicated for match-fixing by those Indian authorities. The majorityof those blacklisted by the Indian police are still playing international cricket today.

Moving On

In January 2001, Hansie launched a court bid to overturn the lifetime ban. The ban prevented him from playing, coaching, umpiring or commentating on any cricket game or team under the banner of the UCB. This meant, that, should he one day be blessed with a son to carry on the Cronje cricketing tradition, he would not be able to coach his school team. It also meant that he was prevented from giving back to South Africa any of his cricketing skills. What a waste of a phenomenal talent, incomparable experience, and the awesome charisma of one of the country's most popular ambassadors. (The South African people could forgive him, even if the UCB could not. Spokesperson Wim Trengove said: "Cronje is a cheat by his own confession.")

Hansie takes his punishment like a man, like a Christian. He refuses to be embittered and remains in South Africa. He and his wife of five years, Bertha, give occasional joint interviews and speak of awesome support, from family, friends and former colleagues.

"Jonty's [Rhodes] first love is not me, it's my wife. He and his wife really love my wife Bertha. They've been so supportive because her life was turned upside down. He's the best team-mate I've ever played with and he's proved that again now. Now his responsibility is not to Hansie the captain, but to Hansie the individual and husband of Bertha."

July 2001, Hansie says that he does not want to play cricket again, but would like to coach South Africa one day, perhaps. He denies renewed allegations that he has secret bank accounts stashed away. He speaks of his frustration at the ban because he wants to coach children, help them buy equipment, particularly the children of the poverty-stricken townships.

Hansie had been playing first class cricket since his final year at school. He had been a full-time professional cricketer since 1988, his first year out of school. He began studying for a second degree to pass the time and started a club for disabled athletes. In October, the Pretoria High Court thew out his appeal. The ban is to stay in place, but he may now take part in coaching and media activities. It is a small victory, and he at least can earn his keep and put his remarkable skills to use.

It's a pretty tough thing when you take someone's livelihood away. I've had that for 17 months; it was also public so I've had a double humiliation. Financially, if you add up all the knocks, it adds up to about 2.5 million Rand. If that's not bad enough, I wouldn't know what is. I carried all my legal costs, I was on my own.

While the cricket money may have dried up, along with his endorsement money, the well wasn't entirely dry. In selling his story around the world, he made £100,000 -- recouped half of what he lost. He says it wasn't even enough to pay his legal bill. He also received numerous book offers, all of which he flatly turned down.


Throughout his cricketing career, Hansie and Bertha had spent around three months a year together. The pair moved to George, a large industrial town near the coast and an hours' drive from picturesque Knysna. George lies at the foot of the towering Outeniqua Mountains that separate it from the Ostrich farming town of Oudtsoorn. The couple moved into the Fancourt Golf Estate, home to South Africa's rich and famous, developed by German philanthropist, Sabine Plattner3.

Interviewer: Was there ever time when things got a little bit dodgy in your relationship, in your marriage, was there ever a time that maybe this got between the two of you and you thought of perhaps splitting up?

Bertha: There's never been such a time, no. We've made a commitment to each other five years ago, and its a sacred covenant and no, we never thought of doing that.

Interviewer: Hansie has mentioned that he was interested in starting a family, what are your thoughts on that?

Bertha: I don't know where he got that from, no, but a, no, we definitely would like to have some children someday, but no, not in the near future.

In February 2002, Hansie is appointed as a financial manager to a Johannesburg Stock Exchange listed company, Bell Equipment Ltd. The job was based in Johannesburg, so he would work in the city during the week and commute back to George on weekends to be with his wife. On the morning of June 1, 2002, there was a particularly bad hail storm in Johannesburg, causing mayhem with the traffic. Hansie missed his flight. He arranged to travel with friends -- two pilots on a cargo plane.

The plane took off and landed in Bloemfontein without incident, where it delivered the mail. It then took off again and arrived in George. The weather in George was just as abysmal as that in Johannesburg. George is a winter rainfall region, unlike Johannesburg, so at least this weather was not totally out of character. The plane came in to land, but had to abort the first landing attempt. As the pilot climbed out of the runway, he banked to the right to circle and land on the second attempt.

Both the pilot and the co-pilot were commercial pilots with more than a decade of experience between them. The wind blows North East when it rains in the South Cape. Planes always take off and land into the wind, so the plane would have approached the runway with the sea on the left and the towering Outeniqua Mountains on the right. They flew into a solid cloud. The three died on impact. The plane did not ignite. When the bodies were retrieved, later that day, there was not a scratch on them.

Going Home

Hansie's funeral was attended by a who's who of South African cricket. Unable to forgive during his life, suddenly upon his death the UCB found their grace. Peter Pollock, former convenor of the national team and father of Hansie's successor and good friend, Shaun Pollock, addressed the congregation.

Hansie led from the front. He believed in winning, in excellence - there were no alternatives. The statistics speak for themselves, they are a testamony of Hansie's greatness.

R.I.P.







Footnotes:

  1. One Day International (ODI) debut. Test debut was the same season (1991) in Bridgetown v. the West Indies, and may have preceded the World Cup. It is also worth noting that the 1991 Cricket World Cup was South Africa's first major international sporting tournament since the abolition of sanctions.
  2. The game was held on a week night. I had the misfortune of being in Sydney at the time, and had stayed up until 4am to watch. The first time I saw that run-out was one time too many. I then had to face the newspapers the next day after 3 hours' sleep, and was mortified to discover the footage included in a TV ad which ran for several weeks.
    Australia went on to meet the West Indies in the final, and came out victorious. We was robbed.
  3. Sabine Plattner maintains a large string of racehorses in Cape Town.


One Day Internationals

played 188, captain on 138 occasions -- 99 victoriously (72%)

debut: v. Australia, 1991/2 World Cup, Sydney

 
Batting
M       I       No      Runs    Hs      Ave     100     50      Ct      St
179     167     29      5210    112     37.75   2       36      68      0

Bowling
O       M       R       W       Ave     Best    4w      5w      Sr      Econ
850.5   31      3704    110     33.67   5/32    1       1       46.4    4.35

Test Matches

debut: v. West Indies, 1991, Bridgetown

played 68, captain on 53 occasions

 
Batting
M       I       No      Runs    Hs      Ave     100     50      Ct      St
66      108     9       3689    135     37.26   6       23      32      0

Bowling
O       M       R       W       Ave     Best    5w      10w     Sr      Econ
599.2   231     1205    37      32.56   3/14    0       0       97.1    2.01

For a full list of his Test statistics, see http://www.thatscricket.com/matchfixing/cronje.


Sources:

  • http://www.cricket.org/link_to_database/PLAYERS/RSA/C/CRONJE_WJ_03002010/
  • http://www.cricket.org/link_to_database/PLAYERS/RSA/C/CRONJE_WJ_03002010/ARTICLES/
  • http://www.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2002/JUN/011245_REUTERS_01JUN2002.html
  • http://www.independent-bangladesh.com/news/jun/07/07062002mg.htm
  • http://www.abcofcricket.com/Article_Library/art5/art27/hansie/hansie.htm
  • http://www.rediff.com/sports/1998/jan/21b.htm
  • http://www.thatscricket.com/match-fixing/cronje/
  • http://www.cricketzone.com/player/P14.html

"I know Hansie Cronje very well, he is a man of honour and would never stoop so low. The charges of match-fixing against him and the other guys are just rubbish."
Jacques Kallis, South African cricketer - speaking shortly before the Indian police provided proof of Hansie Cronje's implication in match-fixing.

Born in Bloemfontein on the 25th September, 1969, Wessel Johannes Cronje attended Greys College in Bloemfontein, where he excelled at cricket. By the age of 21 he was Captain of the Free State team, and was playing for South Africa. In 1993, at the age of 24, he was made captain of the team. Noted as a good batter, a decent bowler and an excellent fielder, Cronje was a force to be noted on the cricket field.

A devout Christian, Cronje belonged to Ray McCauley's Rhema church, long known for its history as a church for the rich and famous for South Africa. As a major sponsor of developing cricket for previously disadvantaged persons (PC for backing cricket initiatives among black South Africans who suffered under Apartheid). For this and many other public appearances, Hansie was much loved by the South African public, and was instrumental in upholding the South African cricketing tradition.

In April of 2000, however, the dream began to go sour. Indian police accused Hansie of colluding with one Sanjeev Chawla, an indian bookie who claimed that Hansie and some other South African players had underperformed in certain matches in exchange for money. The initial reaction from the South African public was one of scorn and derision for the Indian police, and Hansie claimed that he knew nothing of the allegations. Ali Bacher, managing director of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, stoutly defended Hansie's reputation. Four days later, Cronje admitted to Bacher that he had not been entirely honest. He was stripped of his captaincy, while the King Commission conducted an investigation into the scandal.

This admission further shocked the South African people. A public figure, known and acclaimed for his integrity and Christian beliefs, had cheated at a game he loved, and then lied about it. Jokes, satirical cartoons and snide one-liners became the order of the day, and Hansie was seen several times crying on television. His admission of "The devil made me do it" did not hold very much ground, after the King Commission revealed that Hansie had been given, in total, $140,000 (US Dollars). Fellow cricketers Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams were also implicated, and this was even more disturbing, as Henry Williams was one of the disadvantaged players who had, under Hansie's wing, risen to prominence.

Hansie was given a lifetime ban from the world of cricket and all cricketing activities for his sins. His appeal against the ban was rejected in October 2001, possibly due to threats of boycotts by other countries should Hansie be allowed to play. He enrolled in a Masters Degree, and in February 2002 joined the Johannesburg based Bell Equipment Company. Although still looked down on by the South African media, general opinion had changed from outrage to pity, and there was talk of Hansie being allowed to coach cricket.

On the 1st of June, 2002, the plane Hansie took in lieu of his scheduled flight, which had been grounded, crashed, killing all aboard. The accident made frontpage news, and, in a classic example of the duplicity of the media, Hansie was hailed posthumously as a hero for admitting his mistakes. Hansie's funeral was televised nationally, and was attended by thousands. Though still scorned outside of South Africa, Hansie is now viewed as an example of the truth and reconciliation so badly needed in post-apartheid South Africa.

I can't _Believe_ I left this out!
http://www.cricinfo.com/link_to_database/PLAYERS/RSA/C/CRONJE_WJ_03002010/
http://en2.wikipedia.org/wiki/Hansie_Cronje
http://www.cricmania.com/cricket/DB/stats/user/in01/player/RSAP282
http://www.cricinfo.com/db/PLAYERS/RSA/G/GIBBS_HH_03002347/
My own memory

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