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Friday, March 23, 2007


All week, I've been at the edge of my PC, hoping not to hear the worst. Sadly it was not to be. The official statement released by the Jamaican police tells us his death was due to "asphyxiation by manual strangulation." I shudder to think what his last moments were like. Here's my remembrance:

BOB WOOLMER (1948-2007)

For the longest time, we have been taught sports is about team-building, partnership, winning, losing and taking it all in our stride. Not any more.

After well-publicised reports of match-fixing, cricket - the sport that I love - has seen its image take the biggest blow of all. Murder. Strangulation. Asphyxiation.

Sadly, these are the terms that are being associated with the tragic death of one of the greatest coaches of our time, Bob Woolmer. And just what was his fault? That his team lost and badly at that to debutants Ireland.

Yes, it was shocking. How could the early favourites, Pakistan, be the first to bow of the world's finest cricket contest? How could the 1992 world champions be dumped out of the World Cup by Ireland's part-timers? How did it come to this?

But it couldn't just be blamed on Woolmer. The Pakistan Cricket Board has been roundly criticised for its failure to come up with a World Cup winning strategy in the running up to the contest. Two keys players including bowler Shoaib Akhtar were caught in the midst of a doping investigation. Pakistan had a run in on the pitch in England. One of the images that has been replayed over the past few days is that of Akhtar pushing Woolmer during a training session and Woolmer standing firm.

That was what Woolmer did in the time that he was the Pakistan cricket team. He put a team together. A team that like all teams has its good days and equally bad ones.

Quick with his analysis even while the match was on, Woolmer never once minced his words. Ironically, just days before his death, he had talked about the stresses of his coaching job: "doing it internationally, it takes a toll on you - the endless travelling and the non-stop living out of hotels."

In last media conference following Pakistan's World Cup exit, he said, "I am deeply hurt and cannot tell you how it is going to affect me."

Hours later, he was found unconscious in his hotel room and pronounced dead with an hour of being taken to a hospital in Kingston, Jamaica.

Initial reports that came out on Monday morning (in Singapore) said the 58 year old former England test batsman could have died of a heart attack. But the traces of blood and vomit in his room made this sound suspect. The rumour mills went into over-drive soon after. Five days on, it was made official this morning (Friday, 23rd March 2007) that Woolmer had been murdered. The Jamaican police stated the official cause of death was "asphyxiation by manual strangulation."

An end that sounds even more horrific than it reads. And to think this came to a man who took the sport of cricket to great heights. A man who coached South Africa from 1994-1999, who took the hot seat in Pakistan in 2004, who worked on three continents to help develop cricket across the world. A man who lived his life for the love of cricket.

Fate brought him to Pakistan as coach. Many didn't expect him to last. After all the country's hottest post had seen five changes since 1999 until his arrival. But Woolmer was known for taking on jobs that weren't reserved for the faint hearted. His Vaio laptop in hand, he pioneered the use of computers in cricket, he forged a strong relationship with skipper Inzamam and he didn't let anything get in his way as he steadily strengthened his position as coach.

He was busy at work on a book that could have possibly told us all about the inner workings of cricket. If Woolmer's death is any indication, the details might have been murky. The story must have been about more than just sport. Sadly, we will never know.

Whoever silenced Woolmer's voice, silenced something that was bigger than just his coaching brilliance and his presence on and off the pitch. They silenced the spirit of a sport and for that there should be no forgiveness.

This piece appeared here.

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