Hansie Cronje's biography unveils those dark days

Updated: Tuesday, April 23, 2013, 16:08 [IST]
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Johannesburg:In the hours immediately after his confessing to taking money from bookmakers, former South African captain Hansie Cronje feared for only one thing: his life and that of his nearest ones.

As the South African government, cricket officials and his family members struggled to come to terms with the ramifications of his confession, Cronje began to fear the vindictive nature of the betting mafia in India and the quality of life in jail.

"Where are you going? Please stay with me today," Cronje pleaded to his personal bodyguard Raymond Van Staden, as the former South African Defence Force intelligence officer prepared to leave after accompanying him from Durban to Cape Town where they were met with Sport Minister Ncgonde Balfour.

There was no mistaking the shrillness of the voice.

It was April 11, 2000, the day he had faxed his confession to then South African cricket chief Ali Bacher and his wife Bertha among others.

"Hansie, apparently, genuinely feared for his own life and the lives of his family and wanted some professional security," writes Garth King in 'The Hansie Cronje Story: An Authorised Biography'.

"Paranoia danced with a growing realisation of the magnitude of his offences and the effect it was having on the media."

"And would the corrupting bookies and their dark servants seek to silence him somehow, or exact revenge?"

Van Staden, a qualified forensic investigator and electronic counter-surveillance expert, would ultimately stay with Cronje and 'smuggle' him past more than one highway speed traps and unite him with his wife and parents in Bloemfontein.

But only a few days earlier, Cronje was unaware of the disclosure Delhi Police were about to make.

Cronje had planned for romantic day with his wife Bertha to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary at his lavish Fan court premises.

But a telephone call from Bacher changed all that.

"No, Doc, that's rubbish!" was Cronje's immediate response to his boss about Delhi Police's 'transcripts' of an alleged conversation between him and an Indian bookie.

"They say I was involved in match fixing. It's nonsense, nothing to worry about," Cronje told his wife Bertha after his talk with Bacher. She was shocked but reassured by Cronje's dismissive and curt manner.

"I was a bit puzzled but didn't even think twice about it after Hansie had told me that it was nonsense," Bertha tells biographer King.

"I thought to myself that it was probably a media mistake or some misunderstood comment someone made somewhere that had been pulled out of proportion by the media."

"But after we got to the beach at Victoria Bay, I saw Hansie was looking worried and not happy at all. There was very weak cellphone reception in that area, but some of the players managed to get through."

When the calls came, Cronje wandered off when he spoke making sure Bertha did not hear everything he said.

Next few days were hell for the couple as the media kept hounding them and Bertha recalls how his husband confined himself to a room and refused to go out.

She suspected something was amiss only three days later when Cronje phoned from Durban on someone else's mobile.

"Don't be alarmed. I know it sound strange but I am talking about legal money here. Go upstairs and look for a blue bag in the store room, there is some cash in there."

Bertha did that and found a plastic bag containing about USD 15,000 which Cronje asked to be send to her parents fearing there house could be searched by the police.

The next day Cronje called up again and admitted that he had not been honest.

"Bertha, I wasn't honest with you. I did receive money. I want you to please phone my Mom and Dad and tell them that."

"Phone Kate and Jonty (Rhodes). They will take care of you. I think it may take a week or two to sort out. I am so sorry Bertha," his wife recalls him saying over phone.

As investigations began into Cronje's role in match fixing during the India-South Africa series, Cronje became more and more obsessed with the issue of his impending punishment.

"Raymond, what's it like in prison," Cronje asked Raymond Van Staden. "I am going to jail. Find out for me what's it like in prison."

"Nonsense, stop being so negative," his personal body guard tried to calm him.

Cronje, who was killed in a plane crash two year later, had made no reference in his confession to it being "private" but his brother Frans says it was a letter of repentance.

"Instead of just praying and saying Lord forgive me, he decided to act decisively. The letter wasn't addressed to a specific person but it was never meant as a public statement."

The day before Cronje was due to testify at the King Commission, the letter was leaked to the media. It is not certain who the guilty party was.

"Hansie, recalls Frans, told me that he had faxed the letter to others and not just to Ali Bacher because he thought Ali and other UCB administrators would try and squash it and nothing further would happen. He wanted people to know what was going on. Hansie wanted it in the open. He didn't want it to be swept under the carpet..."

The book, one of the bestsellers in South Africa, also narrates how Cronje's parents reacted to their son's match fixing involvement and the shattering effect it had on them.

On Friday, April 7, when the allegation first broke out, Ewie had heard in the radio news that the Indian police had named Cronje, Nicky Boje and other players. He had phoned Cronje and asked him if he was involved in any way.

"No, Dad," he had said.

After three more calls in subsequent days, his father remarked "Isn't it just the Aussies upto their tricks?" Cronje's response had been oddly flat in tone and brief, "No Dad, It's not the Aussies."

"When Hansie said that, I knew that something was not right. If the allegations were untrue he would have said something like 'yes, it's the Aussies playing their psychological games again'," he says in the book.

Story first published:  Sunday, October 2, 2005, 23:53 [IST]
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