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Sympathetic Cronje book outsells Harry Potter
Telford Vice in Durban | September 27, 2005 11:31 IST
Cricket has moved on from the dark days of its betrayal by Hansie Cronje and his death in a plane crash.
South Africa, however, is still gripped by the Cronje story, or so it would seem from the interest generated by a new book on the former South African captain who was banned from cricket in 2000 for his matchfixing activities and who died two years later.
In Cronje's hometown, Bloemfontein, where he remains a hero to most, the book reportedly outsold J K Rowling's "Harry Potter and the Half-blood Prince" in the first week of its release.
Unusually for a South African book, and particularly a sports book, some 12,000 copies were sold in the month after publication.
By the start of this week, more than 17,000 had left the shelves. A third printing of 8,000 copies -- half of them in English, half in Afrikaans -- is on order.
"When I arrived at my desk today I had another order for 300 copies waiting," Esme Britz of the Cape Town-based publishers, Global Creative Studios, said on Monday.
"Every day we get enquiries from the UK asking where they can buy the book, but it's not available overseas yet.
"We're trying to get someone over there to warehouse copies of the book for us before we sell it there."
Britz said she had handed a copy of the book to Brian Lara when the West Indies batting hero was in South Africa two weeks ago to play in benefit matches for Jacques Kallis.
Clearly, there is significant interest in this sympathetic portrayal of a fallen hero published by a company in which Cronje's older brother, Frans, is involved.
Cronje, lauded as a pillar of Afrikaaner integrity and a born-again Christian, rocked the world of cricket when he confessed to taking cash from bookmakers to influence the course of matches. He was banned from the sport for life.
The scandal also resulted in life bans for former Test captains Salim Malik of Pakistan and Mohammad Azharuddin of India.
Cronje died when the plane he was travelling in flew into a mountainside in bad weather near George, some 350 km east of Cape Town.
The book's thrust is that Cronje took the rap for others who were also implicated in matchfixing.
It suggests Cronje was delivered to the authorities by Indian gambling denizens who decided to punish him after he refused to act in accordance with their wishes.
Little of the interest in the book seems to have come from a South African cricket community that was once lead by Cronje.
"I have a copy, but I haven't read it, I will one day," Ali Bacher, who was managing director of the United Cricket Board (UCB) when news of Cronje's involvement in the game's underworld broke in 2000, said.
Percy Sonn, who was UCB president at the time, said he had no interest in reading the book.
Cronje's former team mates mostly say they have not read the book. Jonty Rhodes is an exception.
"After the first day of the King commission [the South African investigation into Cronje's conduct] I couldn't watch the rest," Rhodes said.
"So, while I was familiar with the ground covered in the rest of the book, I found that section interesting.
"I thought the book gave Hansie's life a broad background, and the key for Frans and the rest of the family are the lessons of Hansie's life."
Frans Cronje was not surprised by the seeming indifference of the official cricket world towards the book.
"We really tried hard not to make it a cricket book, it appeals to a much wider community," Cronje said.
"It's much bigger than a cricket story."
Cronje was speaking on Monday, a day after what would have been his brother's 36th birthday.
"I missed him the most this birthday but maybe I'm just tired," Cronje said as his voice thickened.
"We didn't sleep last week -- we literally didn't sleep -- because we've been so busy with the book."