Nicolaas Everhardus Cronje was born on the eve of the Second World War on the 23 July 1939 in Bethulie in the southern Free State. He attended Grey College where he excelled academically and at sport. He played fullback for the U.19 Free State team (before the days of Craven Week) and tennis for Free State, including the Sugar Circuit tournaments.
However, cricket was to prove Ewie’s real passion and the sport he loved the most. Cricket runs deep in the Cronje genes. Both father and sons, Frans and Hansie, played cricket for Free State, with Hansie becoming captain of South Africa. Ewie was a Free State captain and between 1960 and 1972 played for Free State in 27 first-class and 3 limited overs matches. However, his real impact would be as a cricket administrator when he became President of the Orange Free State Cricket Union in the 1980’s.
During his tenure as President he took Free State from a B- section team to one of the strongest provincial teams in South African cricket. Under his leadership Free State gained full Currie Cup status and competed in the Currie Cup final in 1988 against Transvaal at the Wanderers. Also, Free State was granted Benson & Hedges status and rewarded South African cricket by winning the 1989 final at Newlands. This was the first trophy Free State had won in their 100-year history.
Two other important, strategic developments that materialised because of the vision and ability of Ewie Cronje was the building of an international cricket stadium in Bloemfontein and the securing of Kelly Tyres as Free State’s sponsor. These two major achievements were the basis for the sustainability of Free State cricket.
Today, many years after his tenure as President, Free State remains a force both on and off the field because of the foundation laid by Ewie Cronje’s vision and passion for Free State cricket. He was a Free Stater in “murg en been”, as they say in Afrikaans, and that is why the Free State success story meant so much to him.
The modern-day game needs real cricketing people like Ewie Cronje if cricket is going to prosper and grow in South Africa in the years to come.
Cricket has lost an icon. Rest in peace, Ou Grote.