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Remembering Bob Woolmer and the mysterious circumstances of his death 

  • Revisiting the mysterious circumstances of Bob Woolmer's death.
  • Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room following Pakistan's loss to Ireland at the 2007 World Cup.
Karan Vinod
ANALYST
Feature
Modified 18 Mar 2020, 12:01 IST

Bob Woolmer with Shahid Afridi
Bob Woolmer with Shahid Afridi

On March 17, 2007, Ireland captain Trent Johnston slogged the winning runs over mid-wicket as the Irishmen beat the mighty Pakistanis at the 2007 World Cup. It was a huge upset considering the talent in the Pakistani squad. It brought down curtains on the woeful campaign by the subcontinental side and gravely highlighted the problems within the team.

However, this World Cup was not just known for Adam Gilchrist's 149 in the final against Sri Lanka or the star-studded Indian team crashing out embarrassingly at the group stages itself. This tournament was also known for the shocking demise of Pakistan's head coach Bob Woolmer.

Woolmer was named the head coach of Pakistan in 2004. His period with the team was largely unsuccessful but there were moments where success came by. For instance, when his team toured India and beat them 4-2 in the ODI series. He followed it up by beating England at home and then emerged victorious over Sri Lanka.

Bob Woolmer replaced Javed Miandad as the Pakistan head coach
Bob Woolmer replaced Javed Miandad as the Pakistan head coach

The 2007 World Cup was an utter embarrassment for the Pakistan cricket team. They started by crashing to a defeat against the West Indies, who on that day thoroughly outplayed Inzamam Ul-Haq and co. The defeat left them needing to win the remaining two games against Ireland and Zimbabwe to qualify for the knock-out stages.

Then came the game against Ireland. Pakistan folded like a pack of cards and were all out for 132. Ireland initially struggled at 15-2 but were never really in any danger as they chased down the score with more than five overs left and three wickets in hand. Niall O'Brien was the anchor in this victory as he scored 72 and steadied the ship for the Irish. This defeat brought an end to the abysmal campaign.

The following day, news emerged that Woolmer was found dead in his hotel room. The entire cricketing world was in shock. A family had lost their husband and father. A team had lost their coach. It was initially ruled as a heart attack by the local authorities. Pakistan were scheduled to play their final game of the tournament against Zimbabwe on March 21. Shortly after winning that clash comprehensively, news broke out that the Jamaican police had started an investigation into the circumstances leading to Woolmer's death.

Effigies of Inzamam Ul-Haq and Woolmer were being burnt on the streets in Pakistan
Effigies of Inzamam Ul-Haq and Woolmer were being burnt on the streets in Pakistan

One of the reasons why investigations had to be begun was due to the reports by the pathologist which suggested that the coach had died of asphyxia via manual strangulation. Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields was in charge of the investigation.

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There were a lot of rumours flying around at that time. Some suggesting that Woolmer has unearthed a betting scandal and was killed to cover it up. Some said that an angry Pakistan fan had murdered him and it was even insinuated that some of the players of the squad might have been involved. Outlandish theories were tossed to and by the media and there were also claims of the cricket mafia being behind this despicable act.

Woolmer was also part of the South African set-up when then captain Hansie Cronje was convicted of accepting bribes to fix matches. Pakistani spinner Danish Kaneria resided in the room next to him. He said that he heard no noises at night from Woolmer's suite. Perhaps he knew his killers. Considering he was 6', well-built and weighed over 100 kgs - he not easy to overpower. Hence, there must have been an accomplice to the supposed, purported crime committed.

Woolmer made his ODI debut for England against Australia in 1972
Woolmer made his ODI debut for England against Australia in 1972

While the Pakistani team were getting ready to board their flight to London, team captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed, and team manager Talat Al were asked to stay back for questioning over the state of equivocacy in their statements.

Unfortunately, the investigations by the local authorities discovered nothing. They soon released a statement that Woolmer had died of natural causes. In November later that year, a jury in Jamaica recorded an open verdict on the Englishman's death. On this day, 13 years ago, his life was tragically cut short as cricket lost one of its sharpest cricketing brains in recent times. His death still remains a mystery.

Born in Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh, Woolmer represented England in 6 ODIs and 19 Tests. His highest score of 149 came against the Australians in the 1975 Ashes. His legacy will always be much more than the fixing scandal Cronje was involved in. Woolmer passed on the knowledge he had gained from the sport to a lot of players during his illustrious coaching career which includes shepherding Warwickshire, South Africa, and Pakistan.

Woolmer was a progressive coach who was ahead of his times and advocated the use of technology, often borrowing from other sports like rubgy, baseball, and football to shape tactics for his sides in cricket. He was a pioneer whom the world lost too early.


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Published 18 Mar 2020, 12:01 IST
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