The tears flowed this week when Dr Ali Bacher (77) made an emotional, olive-branch telephone call to Hansie Cronjé’s father, Ewie.
Bacher, the former head of Cricket SA, told City Press’ sister publication Rapport this week that the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic had forced him to do some deep introspection.
“Over the past while, I’ve been thinking about the past and about my life very hard ... and the one thing that I had to fix was my relationship with Hansie’s father, Ewie,” Bacher said.
Ewie (80), who is seriously ill with stomach cancer, was too weak to speak during the interview, but he made it known that he considered the hatchet buried.
Hansie’s sister, Hester Parsons, said Bacher’s gesture meant a lot to the Cronjé family.
“Mamma held the phone against Pappa’s ear and Pappa lay there and listened. She said Pappa was extremely emotional and sad. Afterwards, he explained to her that he wished he could respond. He so badly wanted a conversation with Ali and to be able to answer him.
“His call meant so much to my father and my mother and to our family, but especially for Pappa. Ali said he was sorry, and my father forgave him. You know, a friendship that long…”
Parsons became overwhelmed and the tears began flowing as she trailed off.
Bacher said he and his wife, Shira, returned from Israel at the beginning of last month after attending a family wedding.
“Because of the coronavirus, we immediately went into isolation at home,” said Bacher.
In the five weeks that Bacher and his wife have spent at home, he has thought deeply about his life.
He said that when Hansie was banned from cricket for life back in 2000, his more than 20-year friendship with Ewie came to a standstill.
“My birthday is on May 24. Before Hansie’s suspension, Ewie called me every year or sent me a message. It just stopped, and I mistakenly assumed he was angry with me. We have not spoken for the last 20 years, and with the date approaching and the fear of the virus hanging in the air, I felt I had to do something,” said Bacher.
He called Hansie’s older brother, Frans.
“I wanted to know if it would be appropriate for me to phone his father. Frans called me back and said the family has no problem with me, and that I could phone Ewie. However, there was a problem. Ewie is very sick and cannot speak any more.”
Bacher’s voice began to crack with emotion as he continued.
“I phoned Ewie’s wife, San-Marie. She wrote down everything I said and Ewie could read it. Every time she just said: ‘Ewie is nodding, he’s nodding.’ And that’s how we sorted things out,” said Bacher.
Bacher said his friendship with Ewie dated back to the early 1980s.
“I took over the reins at Transvaal in 1981 and at South African cricket in 1991, I think. It was during that time that I met Mr Bloemfontein, Ewie Cronjé, and our shared love of cricket quickly made us close friends. I was also very close to his family.”
When Hansie, the Proteas cricket player and captain, appeared on the scene, Bacher and Ewie became even closer.
“My big passion has always been cricket development. That is why I had already started doing it in the townships in 1986. I can honestly tell you that, in the last 30 years, no other South African captain shared that vision as much as Hansie,” said Bacher.
He said Hansie was always ready to help with that, no matter how inconvenient his request.
“I remember that I called him once, two days before a big match in Bloemfontein, and asked him if he could take the team to the township for a clinic. I told him there was no pressure, and if he couldn’t take them, I would understand. Hansie didn’t ask questions and simply made time for it.”
Bacher said the fall of Hansie, and his later death, hit him very hard.
“After the Ewie telephone call, I can tell you with an open heart that my Hansie page is clean. I will never forget how Hansie called me after the now deceased [United Cricket Board president] Percy Sonn said on record that Hansie may never play cricket again, not even on the beach. Hansie was so heartbroken. His remorse was so overwhelming,” said Bacher.
He said that, although Hansie admitted to his mistakes, his lifetime ban from the sport was something that rubbed South Africans up the wrong way.
“People were furious at me. Almost the entire country turned on me. And it wasn’t my decision, or even a South African cricket decision. It came directly from the International Cricket Council.”
Hansie died in a plane crash in June 2002. His death came as a major shock, said Bacher.
“After his death, things were very difficult. There was a lot of speculation about dirty tricks and tampering with the aircraft, but it simply wasn’t possible that anyone with sinister intentions could have known that Hansie would be on that aircraft. He decided at the last moment to board the cargo plane because all passenger flights had been cancelled due to the bad weather in Johannesburg,” said Bacher.
Hansie’s funeral reopened old wounds.
"There were stories in the media the Ewie did not want any cricket officials at the funeral. So I phoned Ewie, and, the true gentleman that he is, he said I was welcome to go.
“Me and the then minister of sport, Ngconde Balfour, arrived at Grey College [Hansie’s former school, where the funeral was held] at the same time on that horrible day. A whole crowd of local people were waiting for me outside. Whether they wanted to assault me or just verbally abuse me I don’t know, but the minister’s bodyguards intervened and prevented trouble.”
When it comes to the match-fixing, Bacher forgave Hansie long ago.
“History will record that Hansie did a terrible thing. He went in the wrong direction and there is nothing one can say or do to change that, even if you wish you could. But he was a good person and he loved cricket.
“I am so glad that I phoned Ewie. We all make mistakes. Some mistakes are more serious than others, but we have to forgive each other and we have to learn from those mistakes. You can go to bed angry, but then you have to sort the thing out the next day. It is not healthy to leave something like this for 20 years,” said Bacher.
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