‘The day I was duped by Hansie Cronje’

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Naive because I could not see what captain Hansie Cronje was up to when he kept on trying to negotiate a contrived target for England to chase against South Africa on the last day of what had been a rain-ruined final Test. And angry because my first overseas Test win as England captain will forever be tainted and tarnished by the match-fixers.

The affair is pertinent, too, because as England return to Centurion on Friday the dark clouds of corruption are still hanging over the sport all these years later, with allegations affecting the game in Sri Lanka, India and again in South Africa.

To recap, the bulk of that 1999-2000 Test had been rained off and we approached the last day thinking that South Africa would just bat it out for a draw and a 2-0 series win which they thoroughly deserved.

But something surprising started to happen when Cronje, at that time a much-respected figure, passed Alec Stewart on the long stairs at Centurion that lead down to the ground and asked if we wanted to make a game of it.

When Alec told me, my immediate reaction was, ‘No, don’t be stupid. This is Test cricket, not a three-day county game. It would be degrading to do that. Thanks very much but we’ll just see out the day.’

But when we started to bowl the pitch was much flatter than I thought it would be and I started to think we might be able to pull off a run chase, even if we were up against Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis.

Eventually I made an excuse to leave the field and went to speak to Hansie thinking he would set us 280 at four an over, something like that, and in the end he offered us 249 at less than three and a half an over.

I thought, ‘That sounds remarkably fair, let’s do it,’ and I didn’t even think something was up when Phil Tufnell, who was in the dressing room at the time of the negotiations, said, ‘That’s odd Nass, he would have come down even further.’

So we did it, chased down the runs with eight wickets down, celebrated an exciting and cherished win and agreed with former South Africa coach Bob Woolmer that Cronje had acted for the good of the game.

How wrong we all were.Just four months later Cronje was exposed and admitted he had accepted £5 000 and, bizarrely, a leather jacket to try to ensure there was not a draw in that game because all the money at the bookmakers had gone on a stalemate.

I was incredibly annoyed with myself, thought how stupid I had been not to see what was happening and felt for the English fans who believed they had seen a famous day’s cricket which at the time was very important to our side.

It still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to think that I was involved in a Test that was manipulated in that way.Now, all these years later, we are seeing match-fixing allegations not only in cricket but also tennis and the problem in our game can only get worse because of the proliferation of Twenty20 cricket which can be easily manipulated.

You have to say the International Cricket Council have done an awful lot to try to catch the wrong-doers and we have seen four players - Pakistan’s Salman Butt, Mohammad Asif and Mohammad Amir and Mervyn Westfield of Essex - serve time in English prisons for spot-fixing in games of cricket.

But it is still there and it is the worst problem you can have in any sport because you want to sit there and believe in what you are seeing. Otherwise, what is the point of sport? Instead, my phone always goes off with texts saying, ‘is this for real?’ whenever a side are perhaps 10 for nought after three overs of a Twenty20 game and a certain player, whoever he is, has faced six dot balls.

People start thinking, ‘What’s going on here?’ Then look at England’s one-day international against Pakistan in Sharjah before Christmas when there are suddenly some comical run-outs and a former England captain in Michael Vaughan tweets, ‘They must think we are all stupid.’

The point is, that match - and others when people are suspicious - are quite probably legitimate but when you are not sure whether it is just another cricketing collapse or corruption at work then the whole exercise is ruined. You want amazing turnarounds. You want to watch remarkable comebacks and the unexpected in sport. And you want the human element of frailty under pressure. What you don’t want is to question what’s in front of your eyes.So what can we do?

The game does have to be incredibly strong when you catch someone out and players have to be prepared to come forward when they are approached, not undergo a difficult experience themselves like Brendon McCullum did at Southwark Crown Court in the Chris Cairns trial.

Having said that, I am in favour of Amir getting a second chance with Pakistan because he has served his time, has appeared genuinely remorseful, has worked with the ICC in trying to prevent others falling foul of the fixers and was no doubt taken advantage of by his captain at the time because he was so young.

You get the feeling with Amir that he was genuinely upset at what he did. With Butt and Asif you get the impression they were upset at getting caught. I’m sure the 23-year-old will have a tough time at the hands of England supporters if he tours this summer and plays at Lord’s again. And if he is booed and people shout ‘no ball’ when he is running up to bowl, perhaps that will serve as a deterrent because whatever Mohammad Amir does in the game from now on, he will forever be remembered for bowling deliberate no-balls during a Lord’s Test.

I cannot pretend I know the answers but as England go back to Centurion, we cannot hide away from the fact that corruption is still an issue in our game and we have to target the big hitters, not just the young and vulnerable like Amir or the small fish in a very big pool like Westfield. Unless we do we will never be quite sure we can believe what we are watching.

Daily Mail

Original source: ‘The day I was duped by Hansie Cronje’

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