TELFORD VICE, Centurion
CENTURION is not the worst place to be marooned while rain falls where the cricket should be. Here, in the bosom of Highveld hospitality, they will feed you and water you until you are fit to burst, and all the while with a smile.
And that’s come rain, shine or one of those biblical thunderstorms that can turn SA’s happiest ground into a scene from Ben Hur, chariots not included.
Things haven’t changed. On Thursday, the uninitiated who attended the opening of the AB de Villiers Suite might have expected the “snacks” promised on the invitation.
Instead, they were confronted with more pap, wors, quarter chickens, vegetables, salad and beer than they could safely consume at one sitting.
Similarly, in January 2000, idle nonsense permeated the Centurion pressbox, where too many reporters had too little to do and too much time to talk about it as rain fell for three days of the fifth test against England in a series SA had already won.
Little more than 100 metres away from us as we guzzled and gaggled, Hansie Cronje was making dirty money.
First he asked Alec Stewart, as they passed each other on the stairs leading from the dressingroom to the field early on the fifth day, whether England “wanted to make a game of it”.
Darren Gough would rather not have, probably. In anticipation of another slow and squelchy day at the office, he had spent much of the previous night drinking with Ian Woosnam, the golfer, and was puking his lungs out in the dressingroom toilets even as Cronje and Stewart spoke.
The plan was that each team would forfeit an innings and then get on with a playing a real, live one-innings match.
England captain Nasser Hussain first rejected but then accepted the deal, and was pleasantly surprised when Cronje set England a target of 249 in less than three-and-a-half runs an over.
What a brilliant idea! No boring draws for us, thank you!
“Some people in that dressingroom might now say that they thought there was something going on but I don’t remember people saying that was a bit dodgy, a bit strange,” Chris Adams, who played the last of his five tests in that match, told the Independent.
The idea actually belonged to professional gambler Marlon Aronstam, who stood to make piles of money if a match that was headed for a draw reached a positive result.
For facilitating this lucrative contrivance, he gave Cronje R53 000 and “a leather jacket, for my wife”.
Gough hit England’s winning runs, Cronje was exposed as a crook months later and died in a plane crash in 2002, and Aronstam’s Twitter page – if it is indeed his – lists his location as “jail”.
Here we are, 16 years on, back at Centurion for another dead rubber between SA and England and with more corruption swirling in the dark clouds above.
On Friday, a carload of English broadcasters, including Jonathan Agnew and former England captain Michael Vaughan, fell victim to what the Daily Mirror headlined as a “frightening confrontation with South African policeman”.
They seem to have fallen victim to one of the daily drawbacks of living in Gauteng: metro cops demanding bribes in lieu of writing out tickets, in this case because Agnew could not produce his driving licence.
And so back to match-fixing, which – albeit at domestic level – once again this way comes. Or did it never leave?