Pieter Strydom looks a little like Pink Floyd drummer Nick Mason. A Nick Mason older than in the glory days of the Floyd, when he had long, dark hair and a walrus moustache, and only slightly younger than the old man at their reunion at Live 8, who was described by Mark Blake as a "fifty-something businessman on a dress-down Friday". Strydom has a similar upper lip, made for walrus moustaches, and a slightly elusive demeanour when he talks. It's almost like he doesn't like to talk about serious things, a little like Mason, who didn't quite share the brooding seriousness of his band mates. It was Mason's fate to be part of heavy conversations.
It is Strydom's fate to keep being reminded of his involvement in the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal, though he has always maintained - and the King Commission cleared him - that he was not involved. Strydom was a player good enough to play 114 first-class matches and 139 List A ones. He was an attacking lower-middle-order batsman with a home-grown technique that featured heavy and awkward use of the bottom hand, and a left-arm spinner.
"It is quite often, huh," Strydom says when asked how often he gets reminded of Cronje. "Lots of people know me because of this. It is a long story to keep telling everyone. Now you know me, having a few beers, and now the okes want to hear the whole story. You start telling one little bit. Almost feels like you have to explain yourself. Maybe the okes aren't as familiar with the King Commission as you are. They don't know the whole thing. Then I am boring myself out for 45 minutes."
To those who are not familiar with the King Commission, it was an inquiry into the biggest scandal cricket had faced till then. Much loved South Africa captain Cronje was caught by the Delhi police, fixing - or at least promising to fix - matches. They taped his phone conversations with bookies during the tour of India in 2000. In one of those conversations, before the third ODI on that tour, Cronje is heard telling bookie Sanjay Chawla that Nicky Boje, Herschelle Gibbs and Strydom are in on the fix.
Life has not been the same for Strydom since the day the transcripts were released. Firstly, Strydom says he wasn't even approached during the ODIs. He was approached by Cronje twice before the first Test, in Mumbai, and he refused both times. Modern cricketers are taught to report such approaches, but back then the administrators were themselves unaware of such threats to the sport. Strydom didn't think too much of it - until he saw 97 missed calls on his phone at the end of a golf game in East London in April 2000. The news had broken.
"When I walked away from that room [where he spoke to Cronje], to me, I had forgotten about everything already," Strydom says. "In my mind I said no, that is it. Only, the next morning when he walked into the bus: 'Hey, how about 140 [the first offer was 70,000 rand]?' or something. Jokingly. Even the first offer was joking. He had that sort of demeanour. But he didn't harp on it. It was a very quick offer. And then we spoke about his degree and he spoke about his music, he spoke about all his MP3s. Not much about cricket."
Then in April, the tape with Strydom's name played all over. In the said ODI, Strydom bowled three overs for 15 runs, batted at No. 10, and was at the wicket when the winning runs were scored by Mark Boucher, another man who, it would later emerge, was approached by Cronje. Cronje himself bowled his quota of ten overs, took a wicket and scored a half-century to seal the Man-of-the-Match award.
Through the India tour and during Strydom's debut Test - the infamous one in Centurion where Cronje forfeited the second innings for money and asked Strydom to see if he could bet R50 on a South Africa win - Strydom didn't see anything amiss.
"The next morning when he walked into the bus: 'Hey, how about 140?' or something. Jokingly. Even the first offer was joking. He had that sort of demeanour. But he didn't harp on it. It was a very quick offer"
"Not at all," he says when asked if he felt anything was dodgy. "Not even in declaration. Not even in India either. I mean, if you go back and start thinking now, maybe this, maybe that, but never on the field. Whenever I played with Hansie, there was no way I saw him as a cricketer that he would ever, ever throw a game. If he used the game - I mean you would have seen the Mumbai [Test] pitch, no one was going to get 250, and that was the request, that South Africa must score less than 250…"
That is what Cronje basically said at the King Commission, the summary of which is: he got mixed up with the wrong crowd, he took their money, and when under pressure, he sold them information and promises that didn't need any underperforming. In between, under pressure from continuous calls from the bookies, Cronje just randomly threw out some names to get them off his back. One of those names was Strydom's. That's what Cronje said at the Commission, before insisting Strydom was not involved.
Strydom had to fight on two fronts, he says. He says he knew he did nothing wrong in India, and all he had to do was tell his story without omissions to the King Commission. He even told them he told Cronje he would have considered the offer if he had played 80 or 90 Tests at the time; instead, it was the time for him to cement a place in the side.
"I don't know why I said that," he says now. "I don't know if that's the right thing to say either. But it was my way of saying, 'I am not doing it.'"
There are other things he would have liked changed. He was out of the side by then, and he believes his second fight was against the people who should have been providing him support. In an ideal world, the United Cricket Board (UCB) would have done: charged him but also provided him support.
"I didn't get any support from South African cricket," Strydom says. "I was on my own, you know. I used to go overseas but I stayed back because of all the court cases and King Commission. So I had to stay back for that. I thought I would stay here the whole year. Didn't go overseas.
"I was advised not to speak to Hansie. South African Cricket wanted nothing to do with him. I was also advised by my lawyers - just leave it until everything settles down, then you can go and chat. But don't get involved with it. You tell your side of the story. You don't know who's going to help, who's not going to help you.
"South African cricket then charged me for trying to place a bet for trying to find out the odds in Centurion. I had to now protect myself against South African cricket. I felt like they were having a something at me. I paid for my own flights, my own lawyers, to protect myself against them, and yet I had done nothing wrong. Maybe in a small print it says you are not allowed to do that [seek to bet on games you are playing in]. Not that I read the small print. I just went to see if there were odds, which there weren't."
Strydom does acknowledge calls and logistics support from Bronwyn Wilkinson, the communications officer of UCB then, "but there was no emotional support" from the board. In due course Strydom was acquitted because there was no evidence to prove he had done anything wrong. "I knew I wasn't guilty, I just had to tell my side of the story."
Closure eluded him, though. During the course of the trial, he managed to speak to Cronje only twice - both times on the phone. Then Cronje died in a plane crash. Strydom keeps meeting others involved in the incident, he kept playing against them in domestic cricket - they don't talk about it - but the man who could have given him answers is gone.
"The thing I regret is, I was not allowed to speak to Hansie," Strydom says. "It would have been nice to ask him, 'Why is my name on the tape if there is a tape?' Those are the type of questions… Why did you mention me Hansie? Why was I mentioned in the one-day series when you didn't even approach me in the one-day series? That is something that can't be answered."
"What are they going to tell me?" Strydom says about whether he has tried to contact Cronje's family. "What can they do? They have got bigger things to worry about. Not in my place to even go there."
Strydom's bigger regret in a way is that he didn't do enough on that tour of India to keep a place in the side; as it was, he was a late selection. Or that he was given caught off his arm guard in Centurion. Or that he batted too low in a strong lower-middle order in ODIs. "For me to go and play my second Test in Mumbai, 35,000 people, you had [Anil] Kumble and three men around the bat, in the 50th over," he says. "I don't care how good a player of spin you are. It's not going to be easy out there. I just think maybe if I hadn't try to hit Murali Kartik in the air…"
Strydom knows he needed runs in his first couple of opportunities, even though as a bowler he did okay, going for about five an over in ODIs. He was never a prodigy, was selected when he was over 30, was more a utility player, a disposable one. He reckons he could have been a useful bits-and-pieces cricketer in modern T20 cricket, but back then he knew the selectors were not going to have patience with him.
That he didn't play for South Africa after that doesn't have anything to do with the scandal, he says, but because he didn't give them reasons to persist with him. He says, though, that his family and wife feel the selectors and administrators avoided him after the incident.
"My family feel let down by him. Me not so much. There is nothing you can do. I would like to have spoken to him and asked him questions, but other people - my friends, people who support me - they feel let down"
Strydom now runs the Port Elizabeth franchise of Postnet, mainly a courier service that competes directly with government postal services. He meets cricketers when they are in town but is not on regular calling terms. He hosted Ottis Gibson, a friend from when the two played for Border, when the South Africa coach was in town for the Boxing Day Test. They hardly talked cricket. Strydom is a good squash player. We meet at his squash club. He says he is happy with where he is in his life. "A good conscience is the softest pillow."
Strydom says he has forgiven Cronje but his family hasn't. "Ja, look, the way I saw it, he was using my name as a player and getting money for it, which I didn't get money for. Which I didn't want. I said no to it then," he says. "I still think he was a great cricketer. Ja, I don't think less of Hansie. Which you might feel… I don't think… I have never been cross with Hansie. I don't know why. I would have liked to have known from him first before I got cross with him.
"My family feel let down by him. Me not so much. There is nothing you can do. I would like to have spoken to him and asked him questions, but other people - my friends, people who support me - they feel let down. They think it is unfair. Why would he approach you? It was your first Test, second Test."
Before we part, Strydom jokes, "But you didn't ask me anything about squash. My wife told me this [Cronje controversy] is what the interview was going to be about.
"It's sort of, it feels like it has died. But if you put Pieter Strydom in Google, it does come up. Now my son is ten, and he has sort of started to look at things like that. I have sort of spoken to him about it. It is hard to talk what I am talking to you now to him. It is hard to explain what happened. He doesn't even know what match-fixing is. That bridge we will have to cross. I don't think his friends will know about it. 'Oh your dad is so and so…' It hasn't happened yet. They are only ten. I will have to deal with it. Everything that has happened, you just have to deal with it.
"There's always a smart oke somewhere to remind me of this. I have never been ostracised - they are just interested in it. It would be nice to get a closure to the whole thing. I don't know if there is closure to it."
If Strydom never had anything to do with corrupt activities it must be really hard to reconcile with being known as the man Hansie propositioned, and not as a useful cricketer who made all of the limited natural ability he had.
"I have got my blazer hanging there," he says. "Like to have been more known for my cricket ability than being part of the Hansie commission. A solid cricketer."