Friday 19 January 2018

Salutary tale of cheats' fall from grace

Dermot Gilleece

Expressions of what amounts to national shame in Pakistan over the country's cricketing cheats illustrates the profound hurt which can be caused by fallen sporting idols. In fact, it can be a deeply personal pain, which I discovered on a visit to South Africa in January 2005.

The point was made most poignantly in an article in the Cape Times under the evocative heading, 'Hansie killed my mother'. Written by Linda Cilliers, it had to do with the effect on her mother, Ouma, of the spectacular fall from grace by the South African cricket captain, Hansie Cronje, who was found guilty of match-fixing.

A proud Africaner who saw great hope in the emergence of Nelson Mandela, Ouma was horrified by the appalling disclosures about her own people in the Truth and Reconciliation Commission. As her daughter recounted: "Something deep inside her had been broken -- shattered. Instead, she turned to cricket which SA was once again playing on the fields of the world."

And Cronje, of course, was a national hero. Under his leadership, South Africa won 27 Tests and lost 11, completing series victories against every team except Australia. He captained the One-Day International team to 99 wins from 138 matches, with one tied and three no results. And between September 1993 and March 2000, he played in 162 consecutive ODIs, a record for a South African.

"Here," wrote Cilliers, "she (her mother) could find expression for her deep love of her country which, by now, had very little to do with exclusion personified by apartheid and everything to do with inclusion and democracy. Our boys in white were icons of dignity salvaged from a ruin. Her last vestige of national pride -- our boys led by a strong, young Afrikaner with obvious integrity. With Hansie and the boys, she had dared to hope again."

On April 7, 2000, Delhi police announced they had a recording of a conversation between Cronje and Sanjay Chawla from an Indian betting syndicate, relating to match-fixing allegations. By October, Cronje had been found guilty and banned for life from playing or coaching cricket. Though he challenged the ban in 2001, his appeal was dismissed.

Cilliers went on: "My mother was devastated. She stopped watching cricket as abruptly as she'd stopped watching the news. She died little over a year after Hansie: for my mother, the last icon of a fallen tribe. As she lay in a coma before dying for 10 long days, I wondered what her thoughts might be. What I know above all else is her national pride could never, ever be restored."

At the cruelly young age of 32, Cronje and both pilots were killed in an air crash on June 1, 2002 after he had hitched a lift as the only passenger on a flight from Johannesburg to his home town of George. He probably never imagined the extent to which he had captured his country's heart. No more than the Pakistani cheats who were convicted in a British court last week.

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