"I am the low sinner of sinners" said Markham Duff-Smith before being executed. Hansie Cronje, taking the cue from these words has implicated two players - former Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin and former Pakistan captain Salim Malik in the match-fixing controversy. In his testimony before the King Commission on Thursday, he also said that he accepted $50,000 as a bribe, but never threw any match and that he will never play the game again. This new twist to the case will automatically have severe repercussions in the sub continent.
The former South African captain appeared before the commission in Cape Town to testify and as expected Cronje re-opened the Pandora's box. In his testimony, Cronje said Azharuddin arranged a meeting with the bookmaker known as Mukesh Gupta, known familiarly as `MK' at a hotel in Kanpur during South Africa's tour of India in 1996. Cronje told the commission that "On the evening of the third day of the third Test against India in Kanpur, I received a call from Azharuddin. He called me to a room in a hotel and introduced me to Mukesh Gupta otherwise known as MK. Azharuddin then departed and left us alone in the room."
Talking to a news agency from Hyderabad, Azharuddin denied the allegations. Reacting strongly to Cronje's statement, he said "It's all rubbish. Cronje has no credibility left with him. I don't know the person he is talking about." Azhar added "I will be going to Delhi tomorrow and will tell the concerned authorities (CBI) whatever I want to say."
The secretary of the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) Jaywant Lele, in a guarded statement, has said "Cronje's confession should be treated with caution. Cronje is saying so many things and the next day he says I didn't say it." Asked whether action would be taken against Azhar, Lele said "How can we take action only on the basis of his testimony. He has said that Azhar took some bookie to him. He has just stood before the commission and said something. But where is the evidence? How can we do anything until the evidence is available to us. The BCCI will wait for the full details before initiating any action."
ICC president Jagmohan Dalmiya said "action would be taken after the investigation is completed."
Cronje in his statement said that "MK asked if we would give wickets away on the last day of the Test to ensure that we lost" in return for money. "He asked me to speak to other players and gave me approximately 30,000 dollars in cash to do so." Cronje said he promised to speak to his team to contrive an outcome, but never did so. "In the event we however lost the Test match. I had effectively received money for doing nothing and I rationalised to myself that this was somehow acceptable because I had done nothing," Cronje said.
Meanwhile, CBI sources told a news agency that sleuths of the Special Crime Branch of the agency had so far examined several bookies in Mumbai and Delhi but nobody by the name of Mukesh Gupta had figured in its investigation.
In a timeline statement starting from the time he took over as captain, Cronje confessed that "my first experience of match fixing was against Pakistan in the Mandela Cup of 1995. I was met by a man whose name was John, the same man who also approached Shane Warne. I discussed that first meeting with Pat Symcox. I was again contacted by John. Malik asked me to get in touch with him. Later in 1996 I was approached by someone whose name was Sunil. Sunil asked me if I was interested in fixing a game."
Cronje said he tried to cover up ever since the Delhi police broke the news of Cronje's involvement. Cronje said he had repeatedly lied to cover his tracks and went on to detail dealings with bookmakers that brought him tens of thousands of dollars over the years. He said "I was not honest and I apologise unreservedly," adding that he felt shame and humiliation at having heaped misery on the game, his team mates and his family.
Deciding to quit the game, Cronje said "I've also decided to sever my connections with the game and will not again play cricket at representative level again. Since the first revelations in April, I have known that my days as a cricketer are over."
Cronje admitted that he had put pressure on his team mates Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams to lie and conceal the bribe offers. Cronje also asked the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) to keep them in the national side. "Herschelle, forgive me," he said emotionally to the young batsman who was sitting a few rows behind him.
Saying that he could not over his greed, he explained that stupidity and the "lure of easy money" had been his downfall and that he had become "increasingly trapped" by his dealings. Cronje said he wanted to come clean and added "I fear the revelations in this statement create serious implications for my personal safety. I have already received death threats."
Continuing on his Indian connection, Cronje said "When I came to India Sanjay (Chawla) met me and gave me a SIM card for the cell phone. The pressure on me kept increasing, with both Sanjay and Hamid constantly calling me. Sanjay asked me to approach other players and fix the matches. When i switched off the phone, I used to get calls on other phone lines... I told Sanjay that I would try to do something for the first one day which was to be played at Cochin."
Meanwhile, the CBI has sent summons to former captains Sunil Gavaskar, Kapil Dev, Mohd. Azharuddin and Ravi Shastri to appear before the agency. The CBI sources said "We have issued summons to several cricketers and they are likely to appear before the agency in the coming days."
Finally, the ball is now in the CBI's court to take lead in the wake of Cronje's statement which has thrown fresh light into the on going match-fixing and betting inquiry in India. As for Azharuddin, he has been stained by Cronje. It's upto him to prove that he is clean, clean, clean as he has been saying!