By Aiden McLaughlin
On 11th October, it will be exactly 21 years since Hansie Cronje received a life ban from any involvement in cricket, from the United Cricket Board of South Africa.
Less than two years later, on 1st June 2002, Cronje died when the plane he was travelling on, crashed into the Outeniqua Mountains, near the southern coast of South Africa. He was 32 years old.
For me, now in my mid 40’s, I have pretty clear memories of Cronje’s successful international career, subsequent fall from grace and unexpected death – those events certainly don’t seem like they was over two decades ago. It’s a story now told through a new Netflix documentary, ‘Fallen Idol’.
With contributions from Cronje’s older brother Frans, his widow Bertha, Allan Donald, Herschelle Gibbs, Dr Ali Bacher and Jonathan Agnew, a picture builds of Cronje on and off the field. A likeable, respected, clean cut image emerges but also one that loved the money that came with his success on the field and the sponsorship opportunities that presented themselves. As Gibbs says, ‘getting easy money was his weakness’
At 1 hour 6 mins long, it’s a documentary that moves along quickly, but not so fast so that it leaves the viewer who knows nothing about Cronje behind. There’s reference to his youth and the South African social and political landscapes provides background as does their re-entry into the international cricketing community in the early 1990’s.
We see how his first experience as South African captain unfolded; a 1994 New Year’s test against Australia in Sydney where Kepler Wessels suffered an injury meaning Cronje stood in as captain on the final day with the match in the balance. In Donald’s words, Cronje ‘captained that like he’d captained 50 test matches.’ He would become permanent captain later that year when Wessels retired.
As South Africa went through substantial change, Dr Ali Bacher reflects that ‘Nelson Mandela saw Hansie as a role model.’ High praise indeed, yet underneath the surface, Cronje was starting to let outsiders take control of his actions.
There’s a look at the infamous test in Centurion against England in early 2000 where both teams forfeited an innings in a heavily rain affected match, to see if a result was possible. From there it’s a tale that quickly unravels as the South African team travels to India for a tour which ultimately is the beginning of the end of Cronje’s career.
Accusations of matchfixing, a denial, a confession and subsequent televised inquiry saw his career and life disintegrate in front of the world. Even now, it’s hard to believe how it all turned out, but ‘Fallen Idol’ does a good job in bringing it all back or telling you the story for the first time.
‘Fallen Idol’ is one of six documentaries under the newly released ‘Bad Sport’ series, available now on Netflix.
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