|File picture of Bob Woolmer with Hansie Cronje at Heathrow Airport. Picture above: The wreckage of the plane which crashed near George, killing Cronje
Calcutta: More than two years have passed since Hansie Cronje died in an air crash, but those who knew him well continue to have the most affectionate of memories. One, of course, is Bob Woolmer who was South Africa's coach for almost all of Cronje's tenure as captain. In an emotional 75-minute interview, recently, Woolmer (now Pakistan's coach) spoke to The Telegraph exclusively on Cronje.
The following are excerpts
On how he remembers Cronje
Even Shakespeare couldn't have authored a more tragic ending' A couple of years after his death and over four years after the match-fixing scandal, though, my own feelings towards Hansie haven't changed'
On the treatment meted out to Cronje after the scandal broke (April 2000)
I was staggered by the vitriol directed at Hansie' He was pressurised into admitting he did wrong but, at least, made a confession unlike others who may have been involved but didn't own up' (After a pause) Bottomline is Hansie had the courage to admit whatever he did, yet the world took him to task' That upset me emotionally.
On whether he has attempted to answer why Cronje got involved with bookies
Perhaps, Hansie saw the match-fixing business as a challenge' Found it exciting' Perhaps, he wanted to know more about it' Perhaps, it was just the easy money which' In fact, if you go back a few years, you will realise the prize money wasn't handsome and the players' salaries weren't fat' If anything, the scandal helped increase both the prize money and salaries. Today, money isn't an issue' However, back then, some could have been tempted. (After a pause) Having said that, I did ask myself: Why did Hansie let his country down' Why did he let his team down' Why did he let himself down' Why this betrayal' Why'
On Cronje being hounded
I understood the need to ban Hansie from cricket but, at some point, he should have been given the option of giving something back to the sport' He ought to have been given the chance to talk on captaincy, on leadership' Hansie was a wonderful speaker and I won't forget the standing ovation he got after his speech at the MCC-hosted dinner on our 1998 tour.
On his interaction with Cronje after he admitted his guilt
We spoke two-three times, the last being three months before he died' Well, Hansie was adamant he didn't fix a match' We didn't go into details about what he did, but he kept saying he didn't fix one' What else did Hansie say' That he was ashamed of whatever he had done' It seemed, though, he was reconciled to living with the stigma' (After a pause) Today, I recall what Peter Pollock observed at Hansie's funeral ' that he wasn't meant to live and continue suffering' The Media, sadly, went for Hansie' 'Nail him, kill him' That was the agenda and it upset me' People forgot that, essentially, Hansie was a nice person and did a lot for charity' He was generous with money, generous with time'
On Cronje as captain and leader
Fantastic' Was the fittest on the park, led from the front' Even when we lost, Hansie was able to create that strength of character which enabled the team look ahead positively' He never blamed anybody and, in victory, was humble' We were, you must remember, a team not used to losing' And, when we did, Hansie made sure that what had gone was history' That it didn't weigh us down' He would quickly revive team spirit ' once (in England) even through a couple of hours of drinking, which resulted in a huge hangover' Hansie wanted defeats to be quickly out of the system.
[Cronje won 27 of the 53 Tests he led in, with the defeats numbering 11. In ODIs, he captained on 139 occasions, winning 99 and losing 35 of them.]
On Cronje's tactical acumen
Excellent' Days before a game, he would be ready with bowling plans and the placements for every batsman' On the field, he didn't adapt much, but often made the move I was myself thinking of. Hansie wasn't very good when he started off, but definitely became so' It's only rarely that he got plans wrong' I think he gained by working closely with Eddie Barlow and Kepler Wessels' Both were taskmasters and bloody tough cricketers.
On what stood out most in Cronje the captain
His ability to make you believe in him' His ability to make the team follow him' His ability to make you trust him' Believe me, if he so desired, his team would have walked off the Table Mountain.
On whether it's this belief factor that made some of his teammates too get involved in match-fixing
Yes' I suppose so' However, I feel (Herschelle) Gibbs went for the money which would have helped his family' (After a pause) It's rubbish to suggest, as was done, that Hansie went to the so-called disadvantaged players' That he just sought to influence non-Whites'
On the team having been approached by bookies on the eve of the Mohinder Amarnath benefit match, a pucca ODI in Mumbai, in December 1996
I was asked to join a meeting called by the players and, on hearing of the agenda, I insisted they spurn the offer and steer well clear of dubious people' Did I know what the meeting would be all about' No' I'm not aware if the players met again, but the approach was rejected at that meeting. At that time, nobody wanted to get involved.
[With a number of players down with flu, South Africa lost by 74 runs.]
On whether, at any time during five years as coach, he sensed that something was wrong
None whatsoever' Hansie, I should emphasise, declared more than once: 'Never allow me to take the field with an under-strength side' I want to win every game' That was at the time of Affirmative Action when the team had to have two coloured players' (After a pause) I don't know what his dealings were, but Hansie was distraught if we lost.
On his first reaction when a New Delhi police probe unearthed the match-fixing scandal
Thought it was rubbish' Didn't believe it' By the way, where are the tapes with the recorded conversations' Instead of transcripts, why haven't the tapes been made public' I'm going to be asking that till I head for the grave' Perhaps, the tapes have something more' Perhaps, there's still a ray of hope for Hansie's family' Perhaps'
On his relationship with Cronje
Actually, we were very good friends' I remember my elder son (now settled in London) had problems as a teenager and Hansie was of great help' He didn't have to, but still went out of his way' I also recall Hansie took the lead in getting the team to wear a black armband when I lost my father, somebody he didn't even know.
On whether Cronje and he agreed on everything
Not really' We didn't differ on where the team must head' Didn't differ over tactics and certainly didn't differ over the use of technology' But, yes, there were minor differences' For example, Hansie wanted the players to train and run at a hundred per cent each day, whereas I felt the occasional break was needed' Hansie wanted every nets session to be the hardest and got angry if' At times, I had to tell him I needed a break, that he was wearing me out'
On Cronje's penchant for pranks
(Laughs) In the 1996 World Cup, we took two anti-malaria pills on a daily basis' In Pakistan, one day, Hansie gave two sleeping pills ' which looked much the same ' to our trainer! Then, Hansie had this habit of knocking on your door and the moment you opened, the room got flooded thanks to a bucket of water' On the field, he was one person and, off it, quite another.
On whether he suspected foul play in the crash which killed Cronje (June 2002)
No' He was in an old cargo plane which, apparently, didn't have modern nagivational equipment' It's the wind which 'pushed' the aircraft into the mountain' A bit more height and the pilot would have cleared the peak' But, then, destiny ruled' How did I react' I was in Hampshire then, with the Warwickshire side, and was numbed' Couldn't believe it when a journalist phoned from Johannesburg' Moments later, Shaun Pollock's wife confirmed the worst' She was crying and' In fact, Shaun couldn't play that County match for the rest of the day'
Finally, on how Hansie should be remembered
He has already been condemned' Of course, as his coach and friend, I will live with very different memories'