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‘Every time someone is caught for fixing, Hansie Cronje is in headlines’

Gordon Parsons, the brother-in-law of Hansie Cronje, said what hurts the most is when somebody is caught for match-fixing, the former South Africa cricketer, who died in a plane crash in 2002, makes the headlines.

cricket Updated: Jan 22, 2018 12:54 IST
Somshuvra Laha
Somshuvra Laha
Hindustan Times, Johannesburg
Hansie Cronje,South Africa Cricket Team,South Africa vs India
An old image of Hansie Cronje, former South Africa captain, with his sister Hester Parsons. Cronje was banned from cricket for life due to his role in a match-fixing scandal in 2000. (Hester Parsons )

Every June 1, Hansie Cronje’s closest friends gather at the wall of remembrance at Grey College where his ashes have been laid to rest, to have a Coke and a doughnut. It’s a sight that makes his sister Hester Parsons, ‘Sissy’ to Hansie, wonder how he would have looked if he had been alive now. That’s the biggest question haunting her ever since Hansie died in a mysterious plane crash on June 1, 2002. (SOUTH AFRICA vs INDIA FULL COVERAGE)

To the world, Hansie Cronje was that shrewd South African captain who stopped at nothing to win till the match-fixing scandal caught up to him. To his family, he remains the loved brother and son who all looked up to for help and guidance but left at a time least expected. Moving on from the defamation and the intense media scrutiny has been hard but harder has been the reality that their Hansie isn’t around anymore.

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And while his death had left behind a lifetime of memories and treasured family photographs, it’s just not enough at times. “I just want to take a few more photos. I just want new photos. I am tired of old photos,” Hester said in an interview, voice almost choking, from Potchefstroom where she is a teacher and cricket coach.

“Not too often we don’t still think about him. When the family does get together, there is a missing chair,” said Gordon Parsons, Hester’s husband and bowling coach at Highveld Lions. “What hurts is that when somebody is caught for match-fixing, Hansie is in the headlines. So it’s almost like it will never go away,” said Gordon who was playing as overseas player under Hansie’s captaincy at Free State when he met Hester.

Hansie Cronje with his wife Bertha Cronje. (HESTER PARSONS )

Cricket world has gone on to witness many more match-fixing allegations but no player probably paid a dearer price than Hansie, being banned for life and then dying so mysteriously. “He was such an icon as a clean-living, religious, almost a do-goody. So when he actually did something that was totally out of character, that’s what made it so massive in the public eye,” Gordon said, trying to put things in perspective.

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Hester, understandably, was more emotional. “We didn’t believe it. You feel shattered,” she said. “I think the whole thing was blown out of proportion. I think it wasn’t handled properly and there wasn’t enough guidance. And Hansie loved India. It’s ironic that all this happened in India.” To add to that was the grievance against some officials for not helping her brother, a grudge Hester admitted to carrying for a long time even though her parents and brother Frans forgave them almost immediately.

“You know Hansie said on arriving in his hotel that he would find gifts on his bed. He thought there were some really generous people. You don’t know where the gifts come from,” said Hester. But the anguish of seeing her brother being sucked into that world gets to Hester at times. “I was angry at him. Why didn’t he say no? When he was so lonely and scared, why did he not share it with us?”

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Days come and go but there will be two Hester and Gordon won’t be able to ever forget. First was the day Hansie met Hester for the first time after the scandal broke. “He had to try and hide from the press. He then went to hide at a friend’s house where we went to meet him. He just said sorry. He was crying,” said Hester.

A childhood picture of Hansie Cronje’s siblings. (HESTER PARSONS )

“Hansie felt that he let us down. He was such a broken man. He had asked Peter Pollock to baptize him later. And for two years, he couldn’t look up, look people in their eyes. A few weeks before he passed away, he started to look up. Mum was saying ‘Hansie is looking like Hansie again’. And then he passed away.”

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Even the news of his death didn’t come to them in as many words. “Me and Hester were on our way to the wedding of Jacques Faul, who was the CEO of Cricket South Africa. The first SMS didn’t make sense. It read ‘Hansie’s plane overdue’. But didn’t he fly last night seven? Later we found out that he had missed his flight,” said Gordon.

“He was driving through Potchefstroom before that and had phoned us, saying ‘Hey! Guess where I am. I’m driving on Mandela Road.’ I asked him to stop and have breakfast with us but he said he was in a hurry and had to catch a flight from Johannesburg to George (where he was living with wife Bertha) for the weekend.” That was when Hansie probably spoke his last words to Hester -- “Sissy, I love you!”

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How was Hansie as a family man? Gordon remembers the practical joker of the family, the man who used to run to release his frustration and drag him along. He firmly believes Hansie would have been a great father if he had children with Bertha who got remarried two years after Hansie’s death and still stays at the same house in George with two boys who have taken to cricket. “When you see them, you forget that they are not Hansie’s children,” said Hester.

Only 13 months younger, Hester was Hansie’s darling sister who used to be bullied into bowling at him for hours and coaxed into setting up dates with her friends. “She wouldn’t be my friend any longer if he broke up with her,” laughed Hester. At home they used to sing hymns and the TV always had cricket on it.

Even today, cricket remains an integral part of Hansie’s family. His father was once president of the Free State Cricket Union. Frans was once a physio attached with the South Africa team. Hester coaches a women’s team and even her daughter Alexandrea is a qualified scorer besides being a masters in clinical psychology. Cricket has shown them a way of life. But it probably came at too heavy a price.

First Published: Jan 22, 2018 08:49 IST