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Edward Liddle's Biographies of Irish Cricketers
Wessel Johannes Cronje
  • Born 25 September 1969 Blomfontein,Orange Free State
  • Died 1 June 2002, Cradock Peak, Western Cape
  • Educated Grey College, Blomfontein & OFS University
  • Occupation Professional Cricketer
  • Debut 28 April 1997 v Middlesex Castle Avenue
  • Cap Number 606
  • Style Right hand bat, right arm medium pace.
  • Teams Orange Free State, South African Universities, Leicestershire, South Africa

Hansie Cronje will for ever be remembered - except possibly in his native South Africa - for the disgrace he brought upon himself by his involvement in the notorious match fixing scandal of the 1990s. This is a tragedy not only for Cronje's memory and for South African cricket but for the whole game which he had done so much for but then brought into disrepute. He was a very good cricketer - if not quite a great one - at the highest level, and a successful captain, though some felt him too negative. Furthermore not only in South Africa but also, among other places, in Ireland, he was held in great esteem as a whole hearted performer with the ability to inspire others, to raise their game and achieve much on the cricket field.

He came from a typical Afrikanner background, sport obsessed and deeply religious, though his own religious commitment emerged somewhat later when, following his involvement in a fatal car accident, he became a born again Christian. He proclaimed this by wearing a bracelet embossed with the letters WWJDN. It is ironic in the extreme that this stood for What Would Jesus Do Now. The sporting ethos in the family was strong, his father and brother were both first class cricketers, while his sister married the Leicestershire and OFS paceman Gordon Parsons.

In all first class matches Cronje scored 12103 runs at 43.69 with 32 hundreds. His highest score of 251 was made for OFS against the Australians in 1993/94. It was an extraordinary innings which showed him at his best: resolute, aggressive and refusing to accept defeat. It was played in the fourth innings of the match, chasing a target of 457, against Shane Warne and Tim May on a turning wicket. He batted 409 minutes faced 306 balls, hitting 28 fours and six 6s, coming in at 19-1 he was 9th out at 384. OFS eventually lost by 60 runs.

His career bowling record was 116 wickets at 34.43.

He played 68 Tests for South Africa, replacing Keppler Wessels as captain in 1994/95, forming a highly successful partnership with coach Bob Woolmer, though he was not without his critics. Some thought that an over cautious approach cost his country the Test series with England in 1998. He scored 3714 Test Match runs at 36.41 with six 100s, besides taking 43 wickets at 25.95. His highest score was 135 against India at Port Elizabeth in 1991/92 but for many his best innings was his 122 v Australia at The Wanderers, Johannesburg in March 1994, the same season as that of his epic 251. The hosts had gained a three run first innings lead in what promised to be a low scoring match. Batting at 3, Cronje then changed the complexion of the game. His 122 took 247 minutes and was made off 192 balls, including sixteen 4s and one 6. It enabled the South Africans to post a score of 456 and set their visitors a task that proved beyond them.

He was also a highly successful one day cricketer. It was no fault of his that South Africa lost the dramatic World Cup Semi Final v Australia at Edgbaston in 1999 by one run. Not only had his astute leadership taken them so far, but in that gripping match, he had an extremely rough decision, being given out caught at slip off Warne for 0, when the ball had, seemingly, struck his boot.

His involvement with Irish cricket had come two years earlier when he appeared in three Benson and Hedges Cup Matches, taking a leading part in the famous victory over Middlesex at Castle Avenue, the first such win gained by Ireland. His services had been secured through a sponsorship deal with Independent Newspapers, thanks to the media group's supremo Sir Anthony, aka AJF - or to rugby enthusiasts of this writer's generation just plain Tony - O'Reilly. The Middlesex match was rain interrupted going into the second day. Ireland posted a very handy 281-5 with Cronje, at 4, making 94* and "Decker" Curry, the Gold Award winner, a typical 75. Angus Fraser was later to recall that Middlesex decided not to "sledge" Decker on learning that his day job was at a slaughter house! Ireland then fielded brilliantly to dismiss the county for 235 with Cronje taking 3-38, including Mark Ramprakash.

Cronje and Ireland both failed badly against Somerset at Taunton, going down by 71 runs but fought hard in another rain affected match with Glamorgan at Cardiff before losing by 6 wickets, Cronje winning the Gold Award with a belligerent 85. He was hugely respected in Irish cricket; for all that his stay was brief. Over a decade later that shrewd and observer of our game, Derek Scott would recall him as the international cricketer for whom he had the greatest respect, " for the excellent manner in which he fulfilled his three week contract in Ireland in 1997 as player, coach and willingness to be involved."

However even by this time, Cronje was on the road to ruin. In 1996 the Indian captain and sublime stylist Mohammed Azaharuddin had introduced him to the match fixer and bookmaker MK Gupta and he was soon involved with Sanjeev Chawla. His attempts to make team-mates such as Jonty Rhodes and Lance Klusner throw matches were greeted with laughter. He was a renowned practical joker and his real intent was not realised. However he did persuade two young non white players Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams to underperform. The plan went awry but Cronje had made himself richer by US$15000. The two young and then inexperienced players greatly respected him, indeed he was generally regarded as cricket's answer to Francois Pienaar. The abuse of trust was, therefore, immense. Perhaps the height of his duplicity came in the rain ruined Final Test against England at Centurion in 1999/2000, when he was widely praised for persuading a reluctant Nasser Hussein "to make a game of it" after three playing days had been lost to rain. It is now clear that it was his own interests - to the tune of 53000 rands and a leather jacket for his wife - and not those of cricket which were being served.

The whole sorry story and chain of disgraceful incidents is fully detailed in his 2003 Wisden obituary pages 1619 - 1625. He received a life ban from cricket in 2000 and his attempt to have it set aside the following year was unsuccessful. He embarked on a new career as financial manager with an earth moving company, which involved a long commute between work and home. It was on a weekend flight that his fatal accident occurred. Some saw conspiracy to prevent him from revealing more and saw the later death of Woolmer as confirmation, but the official version, which seems unshakeable, is that there was a hailstorm which led to pilot error.

The cricket world will always wonder why he did fall from his pedestal. He hardly needed the money. Greed is probably the answer. He himself saying that Satan had made him take his eyes off Jesus and "turned the whole world dark." His cricket friends remained close supporters. The Test side took to wanting to "win it for Hansie", when they took the field. Wisden records that Gary Kirsten, holder of 101 Test caps, described him as, "A great cricketer, a great performer, and a great on field leader of his country."As the time honoured Almanack concluded, "It was elsewhere that cricket would still consider Hansie Cronje a tarnished hero."

His lengthy obituary is in Wisden 2003. There have also been several accounts of the match fixing scandal. An authorised biography The Hansie Cronje Story by Garth King was published in 2005.