June 21, 2000

For the love of money, says Cronje

If nothing else, Hansie Cronje's cross-examination at the King commission hearings on Wednesday provided a penetrating insight into why the former South African captain fell from grace.

The fatal flaw in his personality was no more and no less than "my unfortunate love for money". Despite being a very rich man by South African standards, with trust funds set up in his and his wife Bertha's names, a benefit three years ago which yielded R1,4-million, a handsome stipend from the United Cricket Board, income probably amounting to R4-million from endorsements over the past five years, lucrative speaking engagements and a R3,8-million house on the luxury golf estate at Fancourt, Cronje simply could not say no to offers of what seemed to be easy money.

This much emerged on Wednesday as Cronje was taken back over his evidence-in-chief, first by his own advocate, Malcolm Wallis, and then by Itzi Blumberg, representing Marlon Aronstam and Hamid "Banjo" Cassim.

Of his first meeting with "John", the man who offered him $10 000 to throw the 1995 Mandela Cup final against Pakistan, a game just seven weeks into his captaincy, Cronje said: "I wish I could say I told him to get lost, but I was a little bit tempted. I didn't say no straight away. Let me think about it. A simple no would have made my life easier, but I went back to my room to think about it."

And, under pressure from Blumberg, Cronje nearly cracked for the first time during his evidence. He spoke of the enormous shame he felt. "I had a great passion for the game, my team-mates and my country," he said, "but the problem is the unfortunate love I have for money. I do like money. I'm not going to try to get away from that."

Has Cronje told the truth of his, and South Africa's, involvement in match-fixing. This will only become clear once his cross-examination is complete. And he still has to be questioned by the lawyers representing the United Cricket Board as well as Shamila Batohi for the King commission.

But it has to be said that Cronje was persuasive in taking the blame upon himself on Wednesday. Would he, asked Blumberg, have spilled the beans had not Herschelle Gibbs first revealed Cronje's approach to him before the fifth one-day international against India this year? "Probably not," was Cronje's reply.

If his intention has been to portray himself as deeply shamed and humiliated by his actions, Cronje has done a good job. More so, in fact, than when he gave his evidence-in-chief last Thursday.

Before Cronje's cross-examination started on Wednesday, Dr Ian Lewis, a psychiatrist consulted by Cronje on June 13, gave his assessment of Cronje's mental state. He told the commission that he believed Cronje to be displaying "seven or eight" of the symptoms of severe depression. Usually only five symptoms needed to be present for a diagnosis of severe depression.

But, he said, Cronje was still capable of giving evidence, even if he might have difficulty concentrating or understanding complex questions.

As it happened, Cronje seemed to have little difficulty following the proceedings. Once or twice he grinned, and he managed a couple of jokes. His friends, he said, knew that he wasn't too keen to reach for his wallet when it came to paying for a round of drinks. And the leather jacket given to him by Aronstam for his wife probably wouldn't fit Bertha anymore as the ordeal he had put her through had caused her to lose weight.

There was one new revelation. Cronje conceded that he had not included an amount of R139 000 transferred into a Bloemfontein account by Mukesh "MK" Gupta in January 1997. This followed the $50 000 or R231 000 paid in by Gupta for information supplied by Cronje regarding team selection for the first home Test against India in Durban. Cronje could not recall why he had been paid a second amount, but suggested that it might have been for revealing to Gupta the timing of his declaration in the second Test at Newlands.

Blumberg, meanwhile, has sought to portray both his clients as little more than cricket lovers who sought to make friends with famous cricketers. Aronstam, it was suggested, had spoken to Cronje about the Centurion Park innings forfeitures only in order to improve Cronje's image as a conservative captain.

Indeed, after the day's proceedings, Aronstam still argued that the R53 000 he paid to Cronje this year had been only for pitch reports which, he said, were freely available shortly before the start of games. All he wanted was the reports a little earlier, and the ICC's prohibition on the supply of such information was ridiculous.

Inadvertently Aronstam may have provided a compelling argument as to exactly why cricketers, especially inexperienced players, should be kept well away from people with ties in sports betting.