Ghost of Hansie Cronje's ills still haunts South Africa
Cronje’s reputation has become a matter of some debate for South Africans. There’s a camp that believes all should be forgiven, while another won’t forgive and still others feel bygones should be bygones.
Last month was the 20th anniversary of what is now known as the “leather jacket Test” in which Cronje’s declaration of a South African innings and then offer to England captain, Nasser Hussain, led to an exciting final day of what had been a rain-ruined Test in Centurion. Back in 2000, Cronje was viewed as innovative, but now we know what nefarious deeds led to Cronje’s offer.
This week, Cronje’s name popped up again. Sanjeev Chawla, the man whose voice was on the other side of those famous taped phone recordings in 2000 of Cronje accepting offers to fix parts of matches during South Africa’s ODI series against India in 2000, lost his final appeals to stop India extraditing him from England to face the music.
Chawla, said to be a middleman between players and the Indian underworld, has been living in England for the past 19 years.
It is the end of a years-long battle for Indian authorities to get Chawla to appear in an Indian court. Chawla, who according to the UK’s Daily Mail, lives in a £1 million home in North London, had exhausted all avenues in the UK legal system. This week the UK’s Court of Appeal found the 52-year-old must be extradited. Indian police are scheduled to arrive in the English capital to escort Chawla out of the UK by February 20.
Chawla filed an appeal with the European Court of Human Rights in Strasbourg for “an interim measure to stay his extradition to India”, but the court turned down that request.
What could this mean for Cronje and the betting saga that gripped world sport for two years, from April 2000 until the conclusion of Judge Edwin King’s Commission of Inquiry?
Cronje told the Commission how he first met Chawla along with a man called Hamid Cassim - said at the time to be close to the South African team - in a Durban hotel during a triangular series involving England and Zimbabwe in early 2000.
Subsequently, reports emerged in the UK media of Cronje having 70 bank accounts in the Cayman Islands, none of which had been declared to the SA Revenue Service.
Might Chawla reveal anything about those accounts? And if he does, will it tear into the scab of this old wound and further sully Cronje’s name, or is his name so far removed from South Africa’s psyche that, regardless of what happens in that Indian court, it won’t matter?
Cronje left an indelible mark on not just cricket, but sport and more broadly South African society. Until his downfall, the post-isolation years had been a celebration of the flourishing “rainbow nation”. The Cronje saga put an end to that age of innocence.
In April it will be 20 years since an Indian police official first leaked to the media in that country that he had telephone recordings of conversations between Cronje and Chawla.
Hundreds of thousands of dollars changed hands, the likes of Herschelle Gibbs and Henry Williams were banned for six months and tears flowed.
Those ghosts are set to haunt South Africa again, and if Chawla does have to testify in an Indian court, those ghosts may send shivers down South African spines once more.