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APRIL 24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16

Sherwin Crasto/AP
Former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje at practice in February .

It's Just Not Cricket
Charges that South Africa's Hansie Cronje took money to throw matches soil the image of the Gentleman's Game

Hansie Cronje was a cricketer's cricketer. For fans everywhere, the captain of South Africa's national team embodied the true spirit of the game: he was unrelentingly competitive but unfailingly sporting. A shrewd strategist and an inspirational leader, the 30-year-old Bloemfontein native was also a standard-bearer for his country. Alas, no more. Last week, police in New Delhi accused Cronje of taking money from bookies to fix cricket matches. If the charges stick, they would not only destroy the player's career, but could also severely tarnish the image of the game.

Police released transcripts of phone conversations, allegedly between Cronje and a London-based Indian businessman, Sanjeev Chawla, indicating that a series of five One Day Internationals played between South Africa and India last month had been fixed by an illegal betting syndicate. (Favored South Africa lost the series 3-2.) A case of cheating, fraud and criminal conspiracy was filed against Cronje, Chawla and a Delhi businessman, Rajesh Kalra, whose mobile phone was reportedly used by the South African captain as he allegedly worked out crooked deals with Chawla. After his arrest, Kalra told the weekly India Today he believed the South Africa-India series was fixed by Chawla for between $400,000 and $500,000. Chawla, who runs a teen clothing boutique on London's Oxford Street, denies the match-rigging allegations and insists he has never met or spoken to Cronje.

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A match-fixing scandal takes down South Africa's captain

Ho Chi Minh City -- An Intriguing Mix of Past and Present

Suspicious South Africans suggest the charges are a ploy to demoralize their team. In the telephone transcripts released by police, a man identified as Cronje names four teammates as allegedly in on the scam. South Africa's United Cricket Board initially stood by Cronje, whose first reaction to the charges was to dismiss them as "absolute rubbish." At his holiday home in the Eastern Cape, where he and his wife Bertha were celebrating their wedding anniversary, he declared: "It just doesn't make any sense to me at all."

Sense dawned a few days later. Cronje telephoned UCB managing director Ali Bacher at 3 a.m. on April 11 to confess that he had "not been honest." He admitted taking $8,200 from two men a few weeks before his departure for India. Cronje insisted he hadn't thrown any matches, said Bacher, but merely provided "information and forecasting" about the result. Cronje was immediately dropped from the side. A new captain was appointed, and a judge was asked to inquire into the affair. "We in South African cricket are shattered," announced Bacher.

The sacking has sent the country into shock. In newspaper columns and on radio talk shows, commentators and fans are pouring out their grief. Ray McCauley, the head of South Africa's Rhema Church, of which Cronje is a member, felt obliged to advise his countrymen not to blow up a sporting scandal into "a national crisis." The more charitable of Cronje's peers say he has been stupid. He is receiving less sympathy from sportswear giant Adidas, sponsor of the South African team, which announced it was cutting its ties with the disgraced player. Cronje also lost a lucrative hamburger endorsement deal with a national restaurant chain.

While the born-again Christian ponders his sins, cricket's administrators are under pressure to do some serious soul-searching of their own. Rumors of match-fixing have been circulating for years, and the stories proliferated in the 1990s as the fast-paced, one-day version of the game made it ever more popular. It is no coincidence that most of the rumors involve players or gambling syndicates in the subcontinent: with their cricket-mad multitudes, India, Pakistan and Sri Lanka are happy hunting grounds for bookies. In India alone, where gambling is allowed only at racetracks, the turnover from illegal betting on cricket is estimated at several billion dollars a year. It is a sophisticated business: punters can wager not just on the final result of a match, but also on the events in each over bowled and on the performance of individual players. Insiders say bookies routinely offer players hefty cash incentives to tailor their performance to the odds. But until the Delhi police stumbled onto the alleged scam while investigating an underworld extortion racket, no one had produced evidence of wrongdoing.

No one had really tried. Despite warnings from several players, the national cricket boards and the London-headquartered International Cricket Council have done little to pursue allegations of match-fixing, much less punish guilty cricketers. "It's been going on for years," says former South African captain Clive Rice. "But players probably thought they could get away with it because nothing was being done."

Many players fear that if the administrators don't stem the rot soon, they risk driving away spectators and sponsors. After the Delhi police bombshell, ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya promised "those who seek to tarnish the image of cricket in this manner must be brought to justice." Chances are, bookies in Bombay will be offering odds against that happening.

With reporting by Guy Hawthorne/Johannesburg and Kate Noble/London

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