April 8, 2000

Indian police failed to follow diplomatic protocols as SA Government steps in over match-fixing allegations

Durban (South Africa) - Indian police have become embroiled in a diplomatic row between South African and Indian governments after match-fixing allegations which claim involved Hansie Cronje, the South Africa cricket captain.

Already strong suspicions are emerging that the tapes the Indian police claim implicated Cronje and three or four other players, do not contain the voice of Cronje at all. Despite claims in New Delhi the tapes are not being released to the media to make up their own minds and none have as yet been heard in South Africa.

There are also serious doubts about the transcripts: the language, style of voice delivery and grammar are clumsy and the vernacular is decidedly non-South African in presentation. Cronje is to hold a media conference at Kingsmead during the dinner break of South Africa's practice day/night game against Natal.

Already the episode of the police media conference in New Delhi on Friday has done much to sour relations between the two governments. Both countries have a record of strong, harmonious relationship since the overthrow of the apartheid regime in the early 1990s. This is now seen to be being tarnish by what is regarded as a bungled effort to smear Cronje and three other members of the side, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and Herschelle Gibbs.

Yesterday the South African Government stepped in, voicing their concern over the allegations while there is also anger at official level over the lack of protocol used in the handling by Indian police of what is now looked on as "the so-called exposure" of match fixing claims.

The South African High Commission in New Delhi says that certain diplomatic protocols were not followed and that at no stage was the mission approached or made aware of the allegations before the police held their media conference on Friday. This could result in serious implications between the two countries.

The United Cricket Board issued an official press release on Saturday, confirming that the South African government is to contact the Indian government "to convey this country's concerns about the match-fixing allegations levelled against four South African cricketers (Cronje, Nicky Boje, Pieter Strydom and Herschelle Gibbs)."

Aziz Pahad, the Deputy Minister of Foreign Affairs, yesterday assured UCBSA managing director Dr Ali Bacher that the Government would seek an explanation for reports that South African players' telephones were tapped while they were on an official cricket tour in India.

The Government is also to ask for an explanation regarding the process by which the allegations against the four players were made public. No Indian official has yet contacted the UCB, the players concerned or South African officials in India or in South Africa.

Bronwyn Wilkinson, a UCB spokesperson said the "Board is dismayed that the integrity of South African cricket and its players has been questioned" Dr Ali Bacher, managing director of the UCB commented, "We remain adamant that our players have never been party to match fixing." Cronje has declined to comment further on the issue.

In another move Kepler Wessels, whose place Cronje filled in late 1994 has, in his weekly column, strongly supported the players implicated.

Now a national selector and highly respected in UCB and world cricket circles for his outspoken and frank approach, Wessels said it was now time the fight against corruption started "and in this country," he commented.

"What is needed is an independent, transparent and conclusive inquiry into the match-fixing allegations with South Africa, India and the International Cricket Council and each conducting their own investigations," Wessels said.

"Knowing the players the way I do I cannot believe that they would be involved in something like this. . ."

Questions have also been asked about the veracity of the Indian police's probe and why they only released such hard evidence on Friday, almost three weeks after the side had left India.

There are also suspicions about the manner in which the investigation was conducted and the tapping of mobile phones and the room telephones of the players. It is felt the tactics used were of a similar, paranoid nature, to those used by the South African secret police to trap a "suspect at any cost".

As for the written transcripts, issued by the police, of what was supposed to have been said, Cronje is made to sound brusque and demanding. In normal conversation Cronje's style is calm and confident with a hint of mischievous, and far from the brusque-sounding person as made out in the tapes.

Also questioned is his usage of the term "yeah" instead of the normal "ja" while other bits of conversation do not tie in with his voice presentation.

The name Williams, most likely Henry Williams, who was injured in the first game of the limited-overs slogs, was not involved in this particular game, alleged to be the third of the series and played at Faridabad and which South Africa went on to win.

There is a view that had the story broke on April 1, it would have been likened to a very poor April Fools joke.