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Thousands Attend Funeral of S. African Cricket Captain Hansie Cronje - 2002-06-05

The funeral of disgraced former South African cricket captain Hansie Cronje has taken place in his hometown, Bloemfontein. It was an emotional gathering largely focused on the high points of his life, not the controversy that ended his career.

If any theme dominated the funeral of Hansie Cronje, it was forgiveness for past wrongs.

Roughly 2,000 mourners gathered at Cronje's alma mater, Grey College in Bloemfontein, to say a final goodbye to the fallen national hero. Family, friends and fans remembered him as a fine cricket player and a generous, loving man of deep religious conviction.

The most moving eulogy came from his wife, Bertha Cronje, who spoke only briefly, her voice shaking with tears. "For the past two years I wanted to tell the world. I wanted to shout it out. I wanted to explain to people that even though Hansie made a mistake he was still the same Hansie: a kind and loving husband, a genuine friend and an honorable man. Over the last couple of days I have come to the wonderful realization nobody forgot the special qualities I knew he had," said Mrs. Cronje.

It was just more than two years ago that Cronje stunned South Africa and the cricketing world by admitting to his role in a match-fixing scandal. Overnight, a national hero became an international pariah.

Then, as he was beginning to rebuild his life starting a new job in Johannesburg, Hansie Cronje was killed in a plane crash Saturday at the age of 32.

In his untimely death, his hero status has been partly restored. Many South Africans prefer to remember the good, rather than dwell on the bad. He was a fine player, and the longest-serving and most successful captain in recent South African cricketing history.

Although the scandal has not been forgotten, Hansie Cronje's former colleagues appear to have forgiven him.

The entire national cricket team attended the funeral, many of them choking back tears as current captain Shaun Pollock described Cronje's mischievous sense of humor.

"When it came to birthdays on tour, there was always a cake organized by the manager," recalled Mr. Pollock, "and Hansie's famous trick was to make sure that if not all the cake, at least a piece of the cake ended up on the birthday boy's head."

Shaun Pollock's father, former South African cricket player and national selector Peter Pollock, also addressed the gathering. The sportsman-turned-minister praised Hansie Cronje for, in his words, leading from the front.

"Sin reaps its consequences," said Mr. Pollock. "What Hansie did was wrong, no question. But God forgives the repentant sinner, and Hansie stood with no excuses. He took his medicine."

Wessel Johannes "Hansie" Cronje was buried in a private ceremony attended by family and close friends.