Home > Cricket > Column > Raj Lalwani
June 02, 2003
May 24, 2003. It is another day when the mighty Aussies aka the bad boys of world cricket win. Twenty-one matches in a row. And for the ignorant, this isn't a misprint. However, though Ricky Ponting has the enviable record now of captaining his side to 21 successive victories (eventually losing the fifth, sixth and seventh match of the series against the West Indies), he will never, repeat, never come in the list of great captains. 'Punter' is just the shopkeeper who is selling the exotic good manufactured by others (Allan Border, Mark Taylor & Steve Waugh).
Truly, the true mettle of a captain is when the chips are down, everything is against the team, and it rises like a phoenix from the ashes! One such cricketer who was truly one of the finest captains cricket has ever seen was Wessel Cronje.
Heard of him? The surname is of course synonymous with the man who supposedly shamed the gentlemen's game. Hansie, who accepted money from Sanjeev Chawla to 'under-perform'. Wessel Cronje is in fact Hansie. Originally christened Wessel, the cricketing world lovingly called him Hansie. Note the word 'lovingly'. It isn't used in reference to him anymore. The reason to that is of course the entire match-fixing saga, wherein tapes were found between him and Chawla. Although Cronje denied the validity of the tapes at first, he had a late night change of heart, as he informed the then-president of the UCBSA, Dr. Ali Bacher, at three in the morning, that he hadn't been 'entirely honest'.
Time for a rewind. Born on 25th September,1969, Wessel Johannes Cronje made his Test debut against the West Indies, at Bridgetown in 1992. There were signs of great leadership qualities from the onset. And a couple of years later, at the age of 25, he was appointed skipper, in what was an inspirational decision. Hansie led the team with great skill and prowess, leading from the front, with both bat and ball. With the bat, he averaged 36.41 in the longer version of the game, with six centuries which came when the chips were down. In one-dayers, he performed better, with an average of 38.64, and a strike rate of 76.48. He was particularly destructive against the slower bowlers, and was one of the few South Afrcians who could read Shane Warne. He was also a useful medium-pace bowler with more than a hundred one-day wickets. In fact, he could have prided himself on calling the maestro, Sachin Tendulkar, his bunny (!) as 5 of his 43 Test wickets were Sachin's (i.e. an amazing 12% of his wickets!)
Maverick. Another word which can define Hansie. After all, who can forget him wearing a earpiece and coming out to field against India in the World Cup? However, his lowest point (before the match-fixing scandal) must have come in the semi-final of the 1999 World Cup, where South Africa were cruelly thrown out. After the match-fixing scandal, he was banned for life by the King Commission. Shockingly, exactly a year ago, on the 1st of June, Hansie lost his life, and cricket lost a great servant, due to a plane crash.
Ironically, Hansie wasn't supposed to board the doomed flight. He was due to fly by South African Airways, but due to a hailstorm in Johannesburg, he had to arrange for another flight, the one which crashed... Talk about destiny.
It's said that the Almighty calls the truly pure-hearted souls to him prematurely. Unfortunately, Hansie too prematurely left us and set abode up above. By dying at the age of 32, Cronje was denied an opportunity to either redeem himself in some small fashion for his disservices to cricket or suffer from further revelations about his involvement in corruption. And that, perhaps, is his greatest tragedy.
Did I hear you say that he deserved to go to hell? Sure, mind what you are saying, as this was a man who devoted his entire life to the betterment of cricket in his apartheid-stricken country. Okay, he made a mistake. I've made hundreds. Send me to hell too then. I guess heaven would be a barren abode then. One mistake. So was the guy who coined the phrase 'To err is human' himself erring in his belief? Certainly he wasn't!
Below, are 24 rhyming lines as a tribute to a good cricketer and a great captain. Naah, I won't wanna call those lines a poem. Poems are supposed to be happy...
"I have something to say,
I have not been honest.
I'm sorry I accepted money
And did not perform to my best."
"Thank you for this award.
Thank you to everyone
Who have supported me in cricket
And helped me be a true South African."
The speaker in both the above cases is same.
Wessel 'Hansie' Cronje, his name.
With his cricket, he earned lots of fame
And in a moment of tempt, was drowned in shame.
So what if he fixed matches?
Do not forget, he took many great catches.
If we highlight his evil,
Why do we forget his goodwill?
The entire world called him a 'chor'.
Alas! He is no more.
I mourn his tragic death
And wonder why only few wept.
The world is indeed of double standards.
As William Shakespeare wrote,
"The evil that men do lives after them,
The good is oft interred with their bones."
-- RIP Hansie Cronje.