Cape Town: Herschelle Gibbs' future in cricket hung in the balance on Thursday night after the 26-year-old South African opener had provided the King commission of inquiry with the most damning testimony yet against former captain Hansie Cronje.
Gibbs told the commission that he had agreed to a $15 000 offer, conveyed to him by Cronje, to give his wicket away for less than 20 in the fifth one-day game against India in Nagpur in March. He said that room-mate Henry Williams had also agreed to take $15 000 for giving away no less than 50 runs in his 10 overs in the same game.
As it transpired, Gibbs inadvertently reneged on the arrangement. He hit his first two deliveries for four and then "I batted like a steam train". He was on "about 30 or 40" when Cronje came to the crease at which point Gibbs asked him what to do.
"He said to forget about what we'd spoken about and carry on and enjoy myself," said Gibbs.
He went on to make 74 off 53 balls and as a result never received the $15 000. Part of the arrangement was that South Africa should not total more than 270, but they eventually reached 320 for seven in their 50 overs.
"Quite early on the morning of the match, Hansie came to my room with a huge grin," said Gibbs. "He said someone had phoned him to offer me $15 000 if I made less than 20. I said yes."
Gibbs said his parents he recently been divorced and he believed he would have to take care of his mother for the rest of his life. This was why he had agreed to the offer.
Subsequent to the match, however, Gibbs admitted lying to team-mates, officials, journalists and United Cricket Board managing director Ali Bacher on no fewer than eight occasions in an attempt to cover the incident up after India police had named him and Cronje along with Pieter Strydom and Nicky Boje in their match-fixing investigation.
The UCB executive committee will discuss Gibbs' evidence on Friday morning, but in terms of the new International Cricket Council regulations, he could face a life ban under paragraph 5: "Was a party to contriving or attempting to contrive the outcome of any match or the occurrence of any Event."
More than this, Gibbs' evidence would appear to undermine completely the line taken by Cronje that no other players had been involved in his dealings with bookmakers.
On one occasion, said Gibbs, he had spoken to Gary Kirsten who told him that Strydom had claimed that Cronje had also approached Jacques Kallis and Mark Boucher.
Gibbs said that it was only after meeting with Boucher for a drink on May 21 that he had decided to confess his involvement. "He wanted to know if I'd been honest. He said if you don't come clean now and you lie in court, you're going to go to jail."
Gibbs' said he had lied about his involvement because he was frightened and wanted also to protect Cronje. This last claim was challenged by advocate John Dickerson who is representing Cronje, but even he was able only to suggest that Gibbs might have wanted to protect himself.
For Gibbs, Cronje and South African cricket, this testimony is devastating and the case against Cronje mounts with every witness.
Earlier in the day, security consultant Rory Steyn described how he was called to Cronje's room 1720 in Durban to hear the captain admitting for the first time that there was substance to the Indian police tape recordings. Steyn, the most concise and coherent witness so far, clearly sympathises with Cronje, but he did say that he had seen Cronje change the figures $20-25 000 to $10-15 000 on the confession which was later faxed to Bacher and Rhema Church leader Ray Macauley.
According to Steyn, the money was given to Cronje by Hamed "Banjo" Cassim, although in his confession, Cronje says he received the money from "Sanjay". There has been no explanation for this inconsistency so far.
Steyn said that Cronje claimed to have been pestered incessantly in India by Sanjay and Hamed in India and that he had given them the names of Gibbs, Boje, Strydom and Williams simply to keep them off his back.
He also said that Cronje had admitted to receiving a SIM card for a mobile telephone. "The problem was that Hansie was in India, but the money he had taken was in South Africa," said Steyn.
The day's first witness was Derek Crookes, who largely confirmed accounts of the meeting in Mumbai in 1996. He did add, however, that Cronje had first broached the subject of the offer to throw the game to him on the plane on the way to Mumbai.
Crookes said that he had been surprised to be asked to open the bowling in the last one-day game in India this year because he had been told by coach Graham Ford that he would not be doing so. But he also said that it was not unusual for him to open the bowling because he did so on a regular basis for his province Gauteng.
Daryll Cullinan, however, provided the oddest explanation for the Mumbai offer, offering that it was a "stroke of genius" on Cronje's part. Cullinan argued that the offer had been by way of a moral test for the team, and that even though he had spoken against accepting it, he felt better for having been at the meeting.
Under cross-examination from Jeremy Gauntlet, representing the UCB, Cullinan floundered, becoming confused and contradicting himself. Regarding the Centurion Park Test against England this January, Cullinan said he felt Cronje's declaration had given England too many overs to chase their target. But when England were eight wickets down and a South African win became possible, he went to Cronje and said "Now I'll have a beer with you".