My impression of the Delhi Police has gone from scepticism to admiration in just a matter of weeks. I mean, I’ve been holed up in the Taj Palace for almost two months now, and never guessed that room 346 was the venue for cricket’s biggest crisis since the 1932-33 ‘bodyline series’. The Delhi Police has been quick on the uptake, discreet and extremely competent. It has been thorough in the investigations into the match-fixing scandal involving Cronje, confident when the whole world pooh-poohed them, dignified even in triumph.
Okay, so crime may be on the rise and much else concerning law and order in the capital may be out of control. But make no mistake, busting cricket’s match-fixing racket is a huge, huge achievement. Over the last decade, this racket has survived the International Cricket Council’s periodic admonishings to players, two judicial inquiries (Justice Qayyum in Pakistan and Justice Chandrachud in India), and sundry attempts by cops in various other cities in India and elsewhere to find the nexus between bookies and players. The Delhi Police can take a bow.
Not so the ICC, the game’s controlling body, which has chosen to ignore warnings that something was drastically wrong in the game for just too long. I dare say that in this whole murky business, the ICC is culpable too.
In the last decade, it has adopted a puerile posture of authority. What great purpose, for instance, does a match referee serve apart from enjoying a free holiday and undeserved clout? If players glare or bark cuss words at each other, he steps in pompously to admonish or levy a fine, which could easily have been done by the umpires. Wrapped up in their own self-importance, more serious misdemeanours have completely escaped the attention of the ICC bigwigs.
Instead of seriously investigating allegations made by players like Manoj Prabhakar and Rashid Latif (which this magazine highlighted first, if I remember correctly) that some cricketers were on the take, the ICC has chosen the namby-pamby route and passed the buck on to individual cricket boards. When Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were fined by their Board for taking money from bookmakers in Sri Lanka in 1994, the ICC swept this report under the rug and kept it from public knowledge for almost four years! For more than a decade, nobody in authority wanted to believe that something was rotten in the State of Cricket, as it were. Now, everybody wants the sport cleansed of cheats and shysters. Wonder if it is not too late already.
A Waxwork Model
I must confess to being devastated when this story broke. Cronje was a hero. A dashing player and a dynamic captain. He made things happen, as batsman and skipper, played aggressive cricket, but without rancour. Commanding and imperious, he seemed a born leader.
I first met Cronje on December 6, 1992, a fateful day in Indian history. Azhar’s team was playing the first one-dayer at Cape Town. It was a day-night match in front of a packed house. India batted first and ran up a decent score. During the break, news of the demolition of the Babri Masjid came through. When the South Africans went out to bat, it seemed a totally different Indian team had taken the field. Azhar, perhaps India’s best fielder ever, spilled three catches, two of them skiers, one of which came from the bat of South Africa’s brightest young cricketer, Hansie Cronje. The match reached a sizzling climax, with Cronje hitting a huge six over mid-wicket to win the game in the last over.After the match, Cronje met the media. He appeared shy and introverted. "When I went out there, all I wanted to do was win the match for South Africa," he said, eyes gleaming with pride. I later asked Dr Ali Bacher about Cronje. "He’s our most valued youngster," said Bacher. "Right from school, he’s shown leadership qualities, and is going to be our next captain."
When we moved to Bloemfontein for a tour match, in Afrikaaner country, the adulation for, and expectations from, Cronje were even greater. "Hansie has been a model sportsman," said the local cricket manager. "He is a no-nonsense guy who plays for cap and country. He is our pride."
When I met Cronje again, during the World Cup last year, he was not only a captain, but among the few truly revered cricketers in the world. Nobody else could have got away using an earphone linking him to his coach in the dressing room. He had stature, and his credentials seemed impeccable. After one of the games, I asked him whether he wasn’t deliberately defying cricket conventions by these innovations. "Not really," he said, "cricket needs dynamism and constant improvement." I asked his coach Bob Woolmer if Cronje wasn’t undermining his own status as captain by taking instructions from the dressing room. "I only offer him options and possibilities," said Woolmer. "Nobody makes Hansie’s decisions for him," cautioned Woolmer. "He is a very strong and intense man."
In The Fall Mood
In hindsight, even a complex man, I would volunteer, Cronje has shown mood swings and flashes of irrational anger. Two years ago, he hammered a stump into the hotel room door of an Australian umpire after South Africa had failed to win the Test. Earlier, during the Titan Cup in India, he had beaten up Avi Sule, South Africa’s local manager in Mumbai, on some flimsy reason (he apologised to Sule during the 1999 World Cup, and they hugged and made up).
Cronje has also not had a very easy time in the last eight or nine months. In fact he has been under a great deal of duress. The disappointment of losing the World Cup semi-final to Australia must still sear his heart. He has also fallen out with Dr Bacher, in many ways his mentor. Cronje resisted the mandatory inclusion of two coloured players in the national team, which Bacher insisted on. It was a controversy that raged for many weeks in South Africa. Following that, he was named captain for only two Tests against England, and only after he threatened to resign was he given all five Tests.
It’s been quite a fall for this man.
And yes, the value of the Rand also fell dramatically in the past few months.