'Cronje had his faults but I had a lot of respect for him'

Published: Sunday, February 9, 2003, 21:13 [IST]
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Johannesburg: South Africa's Herschelle Gibbs has insisted he bears no grudges towards former captain Hansie Cronje, even though the late Proteas skipper almost ended the talented batsman's international career by involving him in a bribery scandal. "Perhaps he tried to do down his own mates," admitted Gibbs in an extract from 'Herschelle - A Biography', serialised in South Africa's 'Sunday Times'. "Even if he thought like that, for me it was good money anyway," said Gibbs, whose words were published just hours ahead of hosts South Africa's World Cup curtain- raiser against the West Indies at Cape Town's Newlands ground.

During South Africa's tour of India in 2000, Cronje offered bribes to Gibbs and team- mate Henry Williams to under perform in a One-day International at Nagpur. Gibbs and Williams were later fined and banned until the end of 2000, although there was speculation ahead of their sentence that they would receive stiffer punishments. Cronje was given a life ban by the United Cricket Board of South Africa (UCBSA) after admitting he had accepted some $ 100,000 from Indian bookmakers as well as offering bribes. Despite his disgrace, Cronje's popularity in South Africa remained high.

But his attempts at rehabilitating his reputation had, in the eyes of the rest of the cricket world, still failed when he died aged 32 in a June 1 2002 plane crash on South Africa's Outeniqua mountain range near his home town of George. Gibbs, 28, was not alone in taking a lenient view of Cronje's actions. Bob Woolmer, South Africa's coach at the time of the bribery incident, said, "I spoke to Hansie about this. He said he went to Herschelle and Henry Williams and offered them the money but he really wanted to see their reactions. He'd been talking to the bookie.

"Knowing Hansie as I do, he did it for a reason, he was testing other people, he was testing himself." Former England batsman Woolmer added, "There was an immediate reaction, 'OK. Those two are naughty boys.' "When lawyers started taking statements, Herschelle told a lot of fibs to protect Hansie and then eventually said, yes, that he had been offered the money." And Gibbs, apparently oblivious to the damage done to his own standing by Cronje's actions, added, "Obviously my reputation went down a bit but I could change that by playing good cricket.

"It was like a six-month holiday for me." Gibbs, a destructive run-getter widely predicted to be one of the World Cup's leading lights, made clear he still held Cronje in high regard. "He was a great person. He had his faults but I had a lot of respect for him."

AFP Copyright AFP 2001

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