24, 2000 VOL. 155 NO. 16
Former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje at practice in February .
Just Not Cricket
that South Africa's Hansie Cronje took money to throw matches soil the
image of the Gentleman's Game
RAHMAN New Delhi
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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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."
edition's table of contents
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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