| Dance of Paranoia: Cronje
Johannesburg/Calcutta, Oct. 2: Earlier this week, the policeman who caught Hansie Cronje was found having amassed wealth not justified by his income. Now, it has come to light that in the hours immediately after he confessed to taking money from bookmakers, Cronje feared for his life and that of his nearest ones.
It’s a strange coincidence ' the raid on Ishwar Singh and revelations in Cronje’s biography.
Cronje, who died in a plane accident in June 2002, was afraid of the vindictive nature of the betting mafia that had its origins in the Indian subcontinent.
The then South African captain confessed, after initial denials of the revelations made by Delhi police ' with Ishwar Singh eavesdropping on his alleged conversation with a bookie ' becoming the first cricketer whose guilt had been established.
In contrast, in the birthplace of betting, no cricketer’s guilt, or otherwise, has been proven. Even the bookie, Sanjeev Chawla, with whom Cronje allegedly spoke, has gone unpunished. Mohammed Azharuddin was banned from cricket on suspicion alone and Ajay Jadeja’s ban was overturned later by a court. He plays first class cricket now.
Indian cricket fans know their heroes were possibly involved in wrongdoing, but they don’t know for sure because legally there is nothing to show guilt or innocence. Who can say Azhar is not getting a raw deal'
Investigators have given up on the match-fixing probe, apparently because there is no evidence.
The Hansie Cronje story: An authorised biography, a bestseller in South Africa, shows what the cricket player’s perception of the sinister powers of the mafia was.
“Hansie, apparently, genuinely feared for his own life and the lives of his family and wanted some professional security,” writes author Garth King.
“Where are you going' Please stay with me today,” Cronje pleaded with his personal bodyguard Raymond van Staden, as the former South African defence force intelligence officer prepared to leave after accompanying him from Durban to Cape Town. Van Staden stayed.
It was April 11, 2000, the day he had faxed his confession to then South African cricket chief Ali Bacher and Cronje’s wife Bertha among others.
“Paranoia danced with a growing realisation of the magnitude of his offences and the effect it was having on the media.
“And would the corrupting bookies and their dark servants seek to silence him somehow, or exact revenge'” asks the book.
Only a few days earlier, Cronje was unaware of the disclosure Delhi police were about to make.
He had planned for a romantic day with wife Bertha to celebrate their fifth wedding anniversary. But a phone call from Bacher changed all that.
“No, doc (Dr Bacher), that’s rubbish!” was Cronje’s immediate response to his boss about the “transcripts” of an alleged conversation between him and the bookie.
After Friday’s raid on Ishwar Singh, questions are being asked by investigators whether the policeman made his money before, during or after the match-fixing investigation.
Cronje told Bertha: “They say I was involved in match-fixing. It’s nonsense, nothing to worry about.”
She was shocked but felt reassured by Cronje’s dismissive manner.
“I was a bit puzzled but didn’t even think twice about it after Hansie had told me that it was nonsense,” Bertha tells King.
“But after we got to the beach at Victoria Bay, I saw Hansie was looking worried and not happy at all. There was very weak cellphone reception in that area, but some of the players managed to get through.”
When the calls came, Cronje wandered off, making sure Bertha did not hear.
She suspected something was amiss only three days later when Cronje phoned from Durban on someone else’s mobile.
“Don’t be alarmed. I know it sounds strange but I am talking about legal money here. Go upstairs and look for a blue bag in the store room, there is some cash in there.”
Bertha found a plastic bag containing about $15,000 which Cronje asked to be sent to her parents fearing their house could be searched by the police.
The next day Cronje called up again and admitted that he had not been honest. “Bertha, I wasn’t honest with you. I did receive money. I want you to please phone my mom and dad and tell them that.”
Cronje had made no reference in his confession to it being “private” but his brother Frans says it was a letter of repentance. “Instead of just praying and saying ‘Lord forgive me’, he decided to act decisively. The letter wasn’t addressed to a specific person but it was never meant as a public statement.”
The day before Cronje was due to testify before the King Commission, the letter was leaked to the media.
“Hansie, recalls Frans, told me that he had faxed the letter to others and not just to Ali Bacher because he thought Ali and other UCB (cricket board) administrators would try and squash it and nothing further would happen. He wanted people to know what was going on. Hansie wanted it in the open. He didn’t want it to be swept under the carpet.”
Which is exactly what has happened in India.