Former England skipper Nasser Hussain looks back at the infamous match-fixing scandal that saw their last win on the ground 16 years ago.
On January 18, 2000, Nasser Hussain won his first-ever overseas Test match as captain of England. In a game that threatened to be washed out, Hussain and opposition skipper Hansie Cronje agreed to restrict the match to an innings each, which saw the tourists emerge victorious by two wickets, with the Proteas winning the series 2-1.
It was, at the time, a moment for England to celebrate, as they’d ended the series on a high, but four months later it was revealed that Cronje ensured there would be a victory, in exchange for £5 000 and a leather jacket.
In his column for the Daily Mail on Thursday, Nasser Hussain recalled the experience, that left him feeling ‘naive and angry.’
‘When I look back to the Centurion Test of 16 years ago, my overwhelming feelings are how naive I was and how angry I became when the truth emerged.
‘Naive because I could not see what captain Hansie Cronje was up to when he kept on trying to negotiate a contrived target for England to chase against South Africa on the last day of what had been a rain-ruined final Test.
‘And angry because my first overseas Test win as England captain will forever be tainted and tarnished by the match-fixers.
‘Something surprising started to happen when Cronje, at that time a much-respected figure, passed Alec Stewart on the long stairs at Centurion that lead down to the ground and asked if we wanted to make a game of it.
‘When Alec told me, my immediate reaction was, “No, don’t be stupid. This is Test cricket, not a three-day county game. It would be degrading to do that. Thanks very much but we’ll just see out the day.”
‘Eventually I made an excuse to leave the field and went to speak to Hansie, thinking he would set us 280 at four an over, something like that, and in the end he offered us 249 at less than three and a half an over.
‘So we did it, chased down the runs with eight wickets down, celebrated an exciting and cherished win and agreed with former South Africa coach Bob Woolmer that Cronje had acted for the good of the game. How wrong we all were.
‘I was incredibly annoyed with myself, thought how stupid I had been not to see what was happening and felt for the English fans who believed they had seen a famous day’s cricket, which at the time was very important to our side.
‘It still leaves a bitter taste in my mouth to think that I was involved in a Test that was manipulated in that way.’
The old wounds have reopened with the recent Ram Slam T20 spot-fixing scandal, making the return to Centurion all the more haunting for Hussain, now a pundit for Sky Sports.
‘You want amazing turnarounds. You want to watch remarkable comebacks and the unexpected in sport. And you want the human element of frailty under pressure. What you don’t want is to question what’s in front of your eyes,’ said Hussain.
‘I cannot pretend I know the answers but as England go back to Centurion, we cannot hide away from the fact that corruption is still an issue in our game and we have to target the big hitters, not just the young and vulnerable like [Mohammad] Amir or the small fish in a very big pool like [Mervyn] Westfield. Unless we do we will never be quite sure we can believe what we are watching.’