It was a calm, serene evening, almost surreal in it's solitude and peacefulness. I made my way towards the Grey College, one of the elite educational institutions in South Africa, after the New Zealand-Zimbabwe encounter in Bloemfontein, also known as the City of Roses.
Bloemfontein is a student city; not very industrial and dominated by the University and two leading schools, Grey College and the Eunice Girls' High School.
The Grey College has played a big part in the upbringing of many of South Africa's greatest sportsmen. As one enters the school ground one feels the air get denser. The architecture reminds one of a forgotten era; the entire area seems steeped in tradition. The first building I set sight on was a structure that also doubled up as the parents bar.
As soon as you enter the building, your eyes are immediately drawn towards a portrait. A collage of Grey College's most famous sportsmen. In it are Kepler Wessels (former South Africa cricket captain), Morne Du Plessis (one of South Africa's most successful captains in the history of rugby, who also, in 1995, managed the Springbok side that won rugby's World Cup in Johannesburg in its first attempt) and the most (in)famous of them all, Hansie Cronje.
The College main hall, where Cronje's memorial service took place, is exactly opposite the parents bar. It was closed. This was the place where Lance Klusener had cried uncontrollably and Mahkaya Ntini was inconsolable. A few people still visit it; Jonty Rhodes was here almost a month back.
Emotions still run high when talk of Cronje erupts. The former South Africa captain is still loved by many; those close to him still cannot believe what happened. They are living a nightmare, they hope.
At the other end of the school is a wall that houses an urn that contains Cronje's ashes. It is a humongous school. As I walked to the wall, I passed at least four cricket grounds of varying sizes, five rugby grounds, a shooting range, swimming pools, a hockey astroturf, separate cricket nets for the primary section and nets for the secondary section. The ground where Hansie played most of his cricket is no longer the main cricket ground but has been replaced by a bigger ground.
Soon, I saw the wall. Right in front of it stood a stone memorial dedicated to the Greys who lost their lives in the wars. The wall was pretty ordinary, divided into 40 hollow chambers. There had been visitors; a few rose bouquets had their tale to tell. And then I moved towards the chamber that contained Hansie's ashes. It was marked by a plate that read:
Hansie Cronje 25 September 1969 - 1 June 2002
The Lord is my shepherd
Hansie's shadow still hangs over South African cricket. No discussion on South African cricket is complete without mention of his captaincy. When the controversy about the divisions in the South African team broke out, they were practicing at the Grey College. It was raining and hence all of them spent time in the main hall, where the memorial service took place. Only Jonty, one of Cronje's closest friends, made his way to the wall.
Among the other players attending the World Cup, only West Indies skipper Carl Hooper, a born-again Christian like Cronje, had offered flowers at the site.
Cricketers are human. They, like everyone in the world, do make mistakes. Will India ever forgive Mohammad Azharuddin? The former India captain would have as many admirers as Cronje ever had. But there is a very big difference between the two: Azhar continues to live in ignominy while Hansie has passed away to a fairer land.
The Lord is, indeed, thy shepherd.