June 15, 2000

Cronje finally comes clean

Expressionless and showing little visible sign of emotion, Hansie Cronje took just on 45 minutes to confirm every allegation made against him at the King commission as the hearings reached a climax with the former South African captain's long-awaited appearance in the witness box on Thursday.

Cronje read a prepared 22-page statement to the commission in his characteristically flat monotone. He faced no questions on Thursday, with the hearings being adjourned until Tuesday when he will face cross-examination.

But 45 minutes was more than enough for Cronje to acknowledge his guilt in almost every important respect. He admitted his lies and spoke of his shame and humiliation. He also begged for the reinstatement as players of Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams. "Herschelle lied to the UCB, his employer at my request," he said. "Herschelle, forgive me."

There was little new in Cronje's statement, but he did name names and gave amounts and dates of the payments that he now admits to receiving.

Cronje's statement was framed in chronological order, starting with an approach made to him before the 1995 Mandela Cup final against Pakistan in Cape Town. This confirmed the evidence of Pat Symcox given on the first day of the hearings, but Cronje named "John", an Indian or Pakistani man, as the person who had offered him $10 000 to throw the match. Cronje suggested this might be the same "John" who had paid Australians Mark Waugh and Shane and Shane Warne for match forecasts.

The offer was turned down, but Cronje also said that when he walked onto the field for the game, he was asked by Pakistan captain Salim Malik whether he had spoken to "John". "It was evident to me that he knew about the approach I had received," said Cronje. "I felt ashamed and embarrassed and, wishing to avoid even talking about the matter, merely nodded."

Cronje's evidence then moved on the 1996 tour of India. He said he met a man called Sunil who asked him if he was interested in fixing matches. Cronje said he was not.

But during the third Test in Kanpur, he was introduced to Mukesh Gupta by Mohammad Azharuddin. After Azharuddin's departure, Gupta, known as "MK" gave him $30 000. The deal was that Cronje should persuade the South Africans to lose wickets on the last day on lose the match.

The former captain said he did not convey the offer to the South Africans, but as South Africa lost anyway, he decided to keep the money. "I had effectively received money for doing nothing and I rationalised to myself that this was somehow acceptable because I had not actually done anything," said Cronje.

At this point Cronje was hooked. The offers started to come in and the amounts increased. Cronje confirmed the team meeting before the final one-day in Bombay, giving $200 000 as the amount offered, and confirmed also that he had phoned MK to ask for another $100 000. MK said this was too much, but offered to increase the fee by another $50 000.

It was the opposition of Andrew Hudson, Daryll Cullinan and Derek Crookes that persuaded the South Africans to turn the offer down, but Cronje did tell MK that the South Africans would be fielding a sub-standard side.

MK arrived in South Africa a few weeks later for India's reciprocal tour, and Cronje supplied him with team information for the first Test in Durban and the declaration score in the second Test in Cape Town.

He received $50 000 for this information and an offer of $300 000 came from MK for the South Africans to lose the third Test. This was refused by Cronje.

Then followed a break in Cronje's contact with bookmakers, according to the statement, until the fifth Test against England this year. With the middle three days washed out, Cronje was phoned by a Marlon Arenstam, who identified himself as a cricket lover who worked for NSI, a sports betting company.

Arenstam said he would give Cronje R500 000 for the charity of his choice together with a gift if Cronje declared and made a game of it. The negotiations duly followed on the fifth day and after England had won, Arenstam visited Cronje at the Sandton Sun to give him two amounts of money (R30 000 and R20 000) together with a leather jacket.

The promised R500 000 did not materialise, but Cronje claimed in his statement that his declaration was a genuine attempt to save the match. He also admitted asking Pieter Strydom to place a R50 bet on South Africa to win for him.

Just a few days later, Cronje said he was approached by Hamid "Banjo" Cassiem, the owner of a sweet shop on Johannesburg and a friend of Azharuddin. Cassiem told Cronje that he could have made a lot of money had he been aware of the Centurion Park declaration.

At the beginning of February, while Cronje was staying in Umhlanga Rocks near Durban before a one-day game against Zimbabwe, Cassiem introduced Cronje to "Sanjay" from London. "I was not told he was a bookmaker and though he was a punter," said Cronje.

"Hamid and Sanjay indicated that Sanjay wanted me to supply them with information, but did not specify what information. They also said I could lose a lot of money if we could lose a match. I said I was not prepared to do it unless we were assured of a place in the final of the triangular series. I was spinning them along as I did not think I had any real intention of throwing a match. Sanjay handed me a cell-phone containing US dollars in case I decided to change my mind," said Cronje.

Cronje did not count the money himself, but put it in a filing cabinet at home together with prize money and allowances from a tournament in Kenya and the World Cup and a $25 000 dollar advance for South African players to take part in an eventually cancelled series of benefit games in India.

It was in India earlier this year that the pressure began to build. Cronje was supplied with a SIM card and then a cellular handpiece by Sanjay.

"I received calls on a regular basis from Hamid and Sanjay. Even when the cellphone was switched off, calls would come through to my room as late as 2 or 3 o'clock in the morning. I felt increasingly trapped," said Cronje.

What happened then, has been well documented. He sounded out Pieter Strydom and then Lance Klusener, Mark Boucher and Jacques Kallis before persuading Gibbs and Williams to under-perform in the fifth one-day international.

"My intention was not to involve the other players, but merely to forecast which way the match would go, looking at the pitch and conditions," said Cronje. "Sanjay was adamant, however, that this could not be done, so I suggested I would speak to some of the other players, lying to him to get rid of him after the first match."

Cronje had long since reached the point of no return. Sanjay and Cassiem did not let up and Cronje tried to get rid of them, he claims, by giving them the names of Gibbs, Strydom and Nicky Boje before the third one-day international. This, believes Cronje, is one of the conversations with Sanjay taped by the New Delhi police.

For the fifth ODI, Cronje was offered $140 000 if Gibbs scored under 20, Williams had to go for less than 50 in his 10 overs and South Africa had to score around 270. But the plan went haywire.

"Although it appears strange in the light of what I have already said, once we went onto the field we were not able to carry out the plan," said Cronje. "I know that Herschelle batted as well as he could."

Hamid Cassiem contacted Cronje on one further occasion in Sharjah, but Cronje said he was not interested.

And then on April 7, the storm broke in India.