Cricket could not have seen a more topsy-turvy and tragic turn of events. Two evenings earlier, debutants Ireland had already featured in an exhilarating last-ball tie with Zimbabwe. But on this fateful day, Bangladesh upset India, and even more sensationally rank outsiders Ireland outplayed Pakistan.
If the cricket world was stunned by these happenings, it was devastated by what was to follow. The Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in his Pegasus Hotel bathroom the following morning.
A pall of gloom was cast on the tournament. What was billed as a colourful carnival now became a long, black shadow that eclipsed much of the splendid cricket that was played.
For months it was debated whether the genial Woolmer died of natural causes or, chillingly, was murdered. All kinds of conspiracy theories were floated, and even cricketers were questioned.
There were whispers about the betting mafia and enraged, fanatical fans. At the end nothing came of the inquest and inquiries, and Woolmer’s passing remained a mystery.
All this while it was almost forgotten that there was a cricket World Cup being played. Certainly in India and Pakistan, few wanted to remember an event that had caused so much disappointment and despair. These two shock results were the catalysts that eventually bundled the giants of the sub-continent out of the event.
This is, at the same time, a bit unfair to the brave-hearts from Ireland. Trent Johnston won the toss and put Pakistan in on a green-top. It was an inspired decision as the Pakistani innings never took off.
There was not a single half-century partnership and not one batsman reached 30; extras top-scored with 29. They crashed to 132 all out in the 46th over.
The seamers broke the back of the Pakistan batting, with the lanky 6 feet 7 inches Boyd Rankin returning with three for 32 off 9 overs and Andre Botha churning out a remarkable analysis of 8-4-5-2. And later off-spinner Kyle McCallan mopped up the tail, grabbing two for 12 off 5.4 overs.
The only dampener was that their skipper Johnston injured his shoulder while fielding.
The Pakistanis might have been desperately hoping that the spots of rain during the interval would turn the Irish chase slippery. Mohammad Sami did trap the hero of the previous match, Jeremy Bray, and Eoin Morgan leg-before-wicket cheaply, but the southpaw stumper Niall ‘Paddy’ O’Brien settled down to play a match-winning knock.
It was easily the standout batting performance of the match in testing conditions. He scored 72 of the 93 runs scored while he was at the crease.
His younger brother Kevin then took it upon himself to guide their team to a sensational three-wicket win. It was a double celebration for them on this St. Patrick’s Day.
The abiding image of this match was of a pensive Woolmer quietly packing away his computer that had become such an integral part of his stints as coach of South Africa and Pakistan. Little was one to know then that it would be the last image of this gutsy gentleman cricketer.
Ironically, some of his last words to the media were, “I would like to sleep on my future as a coach. It’s what I do best, what I try to do best. Therefore I am not going to throw away coaching just like that.”
Fate willed otherwise. Even his book on coaching lay unfinished.
Pakistan: 132 all out (45.4 overs), Ireland: 133 for 7 wickets (41.4 overs) (CWC 2007)
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