The man who hid behind Hansie's masks
Ex-teammate and regular housesitter Dippenaar remembers the qualities and darker side of his charismatic former captain
BOETA Dippenaar used to enjoy it when Hansie Cronje was away on national duty. He lived in a pokey flat at Springbok Park in Bloemfontein but, when Cronje was overseas, he moved into Hansie's home.
"He had DStv and dvds and a CD player, so it was great to house-sit," said Dippenaar. "I had to feed the dogs and turn on the lights, draw the curtains - it was like a holiday."
Dippenaar went to Grey College, Cronje's old school; he followed Cronje's footsteps into the Free State provincial side and eventually became a national cricketer. As the 10th anniversary of Cronje's death approaches, he feels deep sorrow for Cronje and his parents - Ewie and San-Marie, both of whom he still sees - and misses Hansie himself. His is a partial, even home-town view, but one which at least is tinted by intimate knowledge.
Dippenaar remembers, for instance, holidaying at Nature's Valley and calling up Cronje, who was also on vacation nearby, for a game of golf. The reply was a day late but when it came it was full of Cronje's customary generosity. "He told me to be at Fancourt at a certain time the next day. Everything would be taken care of. I just had to get there."
Dippenaar believes Cronje was local cricket's last natural leader, a charismatic man with an incredible talent for motivation. At the same time, he doesn't gloss over his darker side. "He was bit of a pioneer, I think, going out and doing what he did," said Dippenaar. "But once the natural balance of life was disturbed it was difficult to keep your perspective. I think that's what happened to him."
Like Dippenaar, Henry Williams's life also intersected with Cronje's. Williams played in an ODI in Nagpur, India in 2001, and Cronje tried to coerce him into bowling more badly than he should have.
In the event, Williams only completed 11 balls of a likely 10-over spell, tearing a lat but still managing to capture the wicket of Sourav Ganguly. He played precious little for the Proteas again but, like Pieter Strydom, Nicky Boje and Herschelle Gibbs, his name was forever associated with match-fixing and skulduggery. "For six months afterwards I could feel people's eyes on me," remembers Williams. "I'd be out and people would be looking."
Williams tells the story of bumping into a sombre-looking Cronje and his wife, Bertha, at East London airport, a year or two after the King Commission. Hansie and his wife were sipping coffee, waiting to catch their flight, and Williams went up and said hello. "I thought this guy owed me an apology," Williams said. "I thought he could have said: 'H [Henry], I'm sorry, we did the wrong thing.' He's dead now but I can only wonder if he'd have apologised if still alive."
Williams hasn't so much made a new life for himself as started where he left off. He's a bowling coach at Boland Cricket in Paarl and also plays a role in the province's mini-cricket programme. He's also been recognised outside the province - he'll be part of the coaching staff to the Under-19 World Cup in Queensland later this year - but his first love remain his pigeons. He has 80 racing birds and 40 "oupas and oumas" for breeding purposes. The season starts on Saturday with a race between Touws River and Pniel. He can't wait.
"I've learned such a lot from pigeons," he said. "About preparation, attention to detail, discipline. One year I figured out their blood needs to be thin for them to fly in the summer heat. I put them on lemon-garlic and glucose drink. Soon all the guys at Boland were drinking it."
Listening to Williams talk, you wonder if he has made his peace with Cronje and his failure to say sorry. I suspect not, though watching his flock fly in the clean Cape air must make life full and worth living.