Millennium Post

Cricket's 'end of innocence': Hansie Cronje's Centurion fix, 20 years on

Crickets end of innocence:  Hansie Cronjes Centurion fix, 20 years on

Port Elizabeth: As England's batsmen carefully negotiated the opening day of the third Test in Port Elizabeth on Thursday, many people in the cricket world were casting their minds back 20 years to another Test in South Africa.

The fifth Test at Centurion in 2000, which ended on January 18 with an exciting narrow England win, was celebrated at the time for its wonderful spirit before the shroud of match-fixing was lifted to reveal a cancer of corruption at the heart of the game.

"It was false, it was fake," Mark Butcher, who opened the batting for England in that game, told TalkSport.

It was a Test that marked the beginning of the end for Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, whose new leather jacket -- a reward from his bookmaker friend Marlon Arenstam for fixing the outcome of the Test -- became for a while the most famous in world sport.

"I saw it at the time as a terrific victory for England," said Darren Gough who hit the winning runs.

"If you ask anyone who played in that game or was there to watch they will say they were thoroughly entertained, a belter to play in. Just tainted."

The English tourists had been outplayed on the 1999/2000 tour, the series already won by the Proteas who led 2-0. At Centurion, rain threatened a damp and disappointing end to the series, washing out part of the opening day and all of the next three.

South Africa were still batting in their first innings when, after helicopters had been called in to dry the pitch, the fifth day started in front of a respectable crowd.

What none of them knew was that plans were afoot to make a game of it. It only emerged several months later why. Cronje threw England a carrot when he proposed both sides forfeit an innings to set up a run chase on the final day.

"It just looked like we weren't going to have a game at all," the England captain of the day Nasser Hussain told Sky Sports this week.

"And then on the last day, we were warming up and Hansie went up to Alec (Stewart) and said 'speak to Nasser and we'll do what we do in county cricket and forfeit an innings each and we will set up a game'.

"I said to Alec - 'no, tell Hansie this isn't county cricket, it's a Test match'. Also we were 2-0 down and I didn't want to go 3-0 down!"

Once Hussain saw how easily the pitch was playing on that fifth morning, he changed his mind.

"When we went out there it wasn't a spicey pitch so I thought, well, we can chase on here."

Cronje set England a target of 249 in 79 overs.

A thrilling chase swung both ways before Gough hit the first ball of the final over for four to seal a two-wicket win for England.



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