January 18, 2000. The day witnessed one of the most thrilling test match endings in the history of cricket. For the first time, a team declared on 0/0 and that too for the sake of the game.
A test match that was considered to be the epitome of sporting spirit later turned out to be something unusual and a shameful act.
It was the final day of the final test match between South Africa and England at Centurion. When the test match began the hosts were already 2-0 up in the series. England won the toss and elected to field first. The weather was gloomy. South Africa were struggling on 155 for 6 when rains stopped play. Only 45 overs could be played on day one. Rains didn’t stop for the next three days and play could be resumed again only on day 5, January 18, 2000.
Just before the day’s play began, Hansie Cronje, South African captain went to the visitors’ dressing room with an offer; an offer that was much applauded later by the whole cricket fraternity. On his way to the England dressing room he found Alec Stewart on the stairs and asked Whether Nasser Hussain, England skipper would consider an offer and like to go for 270 in 73 overs. It was a complete shocker for the England captain. They were confused but not tempted. According to Hussain, “Fletch and I, both being conservative types, decided to see how things went in the first session”.
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Wicket turned friendly on day five. Klusener scored 50 and went past 1000 test runs. The partnership between Klusener and Pollock sort of made Nasser Hussain respond to Hansie’s offer. Forty minutes into the game and Nasser sent a message to the South African dressing room to check whether the offer was still on. But he wanted to chase 250 only. He deliberately aimed low with a thought that Hansie would ask for higher. But Hansie Cronje once again surprised the opponent captain.
“I deliberately aimed low at first and said, ‘How about us chasing 250?’,” Hussain revealed later. “Hansie just said, ‘Fine’. I couldn’t believe it. No haggling. No banter. No bartering, No mention of how many overs we would face. It was like that scene from Life of Brian when the salesman is all indignant because the guy has simply paid his first asking price without any argument.”
The final proposal was 245 in 76 overs, which was lower than what was offered earlier and that too in three more overs. Hansie’s idea was to declare South Africa’s first innings and forfeit in the second. Then England had to declare their first innings on 0/0 and chase in the second innings. Cronje then met with Barry Jarman, the ICC match referee, to discuss the legality of forfeiting the innings. Although there was some ambiguity as but in the end, Jarman agreed because “the spirit of the game” was given the utmost importance.
South African team also agreed to the proposal of their captain. But they were short of bowling resources when they came to defend the game. At one point England were 102 for 4 and were probably having a second thought about the proposal. But Stewart played brilliantly and scored 73 to ensure the victory for England. England won the match for the loss of 8 wickets with 5 balls to spare.
Although few criticized the pact between the cricket team captains, most of them proclaimed the purpose of Cronje to provide a good game of cricket. In the post-match interviews, he said,
“As Test cricketers, we have a duty to entertain and get full houses and this was far better than seeing spectators sitting there with long faces.”
Later when the match-fixing scandal broke, it was revealed that the Centurion deal was also a result of match-fixing. Cronje was contacted by a bookmaker to make the deal with Nasser Hussain. Due to the weather, the match was set to finish in a draw and that would be a loss for the bookmaker. Hansie confessed, “He said if we declared he’d give $150,000 to charity.” Getting a nod from the England captain, Hansie texted the bookmaker on the match day saying, “the game is on”. The price of the first fixed test match supposedly was 50,000 Rand and a leather jacket. The deal was for another 500,000 Rand to be given to a charity which according to Hansie Cronje was never materialized.