June 9, 2000

Case builds against Cronje

After three days of dramatic revelations, the King commission slowed down on Friday afternoon as the Hansiegate hearings approached the weekend.

Following testimony from Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams that Hansie Cronje had offered them $15 000 each to perform poorly in one-day matches in India, and Pieter Strydom that Cronje had asked him to place a bet on the Centurion Park Test and, later, to assist in ensuring South Africa scored less than 250 in the first Test against India in Mumbai, the last afternoon of the week saw Bronwyn Wilkinson in the witness stand.

Wilkinson's evidence was concerned largely with how the story broke and developed in South Africa following the initial press conference stage in April by New Delhi police.

It was a tale of meetings, denials, early morning confessions, press conferences and admissions but mainly covered ground and events already well exposed world-wide before the commission started its hearings this week.

It may be significant, however, that John Dickerson, representing Cronje, referred Wilkinson to a conversation she had with Cronje, before his early morning confession, regarding the possibility of the tape recordings being spliced or faked.

Later Dickerson questioned Wilkinson about a series of benefit matches to have been played in India in April and May which would have involved a Hansie Cronje XI, South African players, and deposits and payments. From these it may be possible to speculate that Cronje will argue that although it was his voice on the tape recordings, he was speaking out of context, and referring to arrangement for benefit matches rather than match-fixing.

Wilkinson's evidence, however, tended to be overshadowed by the testimony of Gibbs, on Thursday, and Williams and Strydom on Friday. The evidence of these three witnesses painted a pattern of inducement to dishonesty and although it may be some time before Cronje gives his version of events, the case against him already seems to carry considerable weight.

It may also be significant that Cronje's lawyers have several times referred to the presence at meetings of Clifford Green, the United Cricket Board's lawyer. The relevance of these references has not yet become apparent, but they may yet play a part as the hearings continue to unfold.

The first week of the King commission has not been kind to Cronje and there may yet be tougher times for the former captain ahead. Ali Bacher, managing director of the UCB, is due in the witness box on Monday, and his testimony is unlikely to cast Cronje in a better light.

It has not been a good week for South African cricket generally. Gibbs, Williams and Strydom have all admitted to misconduct of one kind or another, all at the behest of Cronje, and even if none of them were particularly successful at either playing badly or placing a bet, they have emerged with little credit.

Gibbs has already been withdrawn from South Africa's tour to Sri Lanka next month. He will probably face further disciplinary action. If nothing else, the King commission can hardly be described as an attempted cover-up. And it has only been sitting for three days.