When it is pointed out that Hansie Cronje’s birthday is coming up in around a month, Jonty Rhodes clarifies, “September 25th, to be exact”.
Despite the tainted legacy that Cronje left behind, Rhodes does not hesitate to say that he deeply misses his old friend. In 2002, Cronje died in a plane crash at the age of 32, a couple of years after he was banned for life for his role in the match-fixing scandal.
The death of his mate left a “huge void” in Rhodes’ life. “His death was very, very sad. My wife and I were close to Hansie and his wife (Bertha). When we arrived at the Cronje house, they had just recovered his body from the crash site. It was horrible. For many people, when they lose a friend, life goes on after a period of mourning. But for us, it was impossible to just move on,” Rhodes, the Advisor for online fantasy sports platform, StarPick , said here on Tuesday.
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Rhodes and his wife were worried for Bertha's mental state after the death of her husband, and went that extra mile to support her. “My wife and I tried to make sure that Bertha was never alone for the first three-four months after Hansie’s demise. We would stay in her house, or we would call her over to our place. When I toured England, we flew her across to the U.K. to stay with us. It was the first holiday she took without Hansie. Bertha has since gotten married again, and she has two kids. My wife and I meet them quite often,” Rhodes said.
The 49-year-old recalled his first meeting with Cronje. “When I was young, I suffered from epilepsy, which meant that I was the only kid to wear a helmet on the cricket field. Hansie’s father (Ewie) believed that I was a good player, so he told Hansie to ‘go and watch the kid with a white helmet’. After the match, Hansie didn't speak to me, he just shook my hand. Hansie always joked that it was easy to spot me because of the helmet,” Rhodes said.
Cronje was outstanding as a leader, Rhodes said, “Hansie was earmarked to be the South Africa skipper when he was just 18. He was the South Africa Schools captain, and I was the vice-captain. Way back in 1987, the Convener of the Selection Committee told me that one day, if and when South Africa re-enters international cricket, Hansie will be the captain of the national team. Hansie understood man-management and people-skills way before these aspects became the norm.”
As for Cronje’s downfall, Rhodes believes that it was caused by Cronje’s fondness for making easy money. “It was never really about taking money to lose a match or under-performing. Hansie initially took easy money for doing nothing, and as time went on, they (bookies) wanted him to force a particular result. He felt that he had to deliver on their demands, because he had taken their easy money earlier,” he said.
Asked if cricket fans should forgive Cronje for his digressions, Rhodes replied, “You can’t just forget and forgive the bad things he did easily. But at the same time, if you hold it against him for the rest of your life, the only person suffering is you. Hansie has moved on; he’s gone to a different place. Obviously, the bad things he did was very hard for all of us to accept. But he was the only cricketer to admit his wrongs; everyone else just denied it.”
It pains Rhodes a great deal that Cronje never got a chance at redemption. “If Hansie was still with us, he could have had a positive role to play in the world of cricket. The ICC or Cricket South Africa could have utilised him as someone who can speak out and say, ‘Hey guys, there are ways to make easy money, but don’t do it, because the consequences are severe.' He could have even worked with the ICC Anti-Corruption Unit. When someone with deep life experience tells you something, it resonates strongly. Hansie himself was keen to take an evangelical approach to preach about playing cricket the right way,” Rhodes said, “But that aeroplane crash robbed Hansie of the chance to redeem himself.”