A World Cup Murder

An innovative, 51-year old, Former English Batsman was coaching the South Africans during the 1999 ICC Cricket World Cup. He went by the name Bob Woolmer. He allowed his captain Hansie Cronje to take the field against India wearing an earpiece. The move was unfair but did not technically breach any rules. Only later would the ICC ban the use of such devices. A stroke of genius, that day.

Amul

7 years later, Woolmer would be found dead in the white-tiled bathroom of Room 374, on the 12th floor of The Jamaica Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica. Commentator and former South African Batsman Darryl Cullinan, would praise his contribution to South African cricket: ‘he changed our games and changed our thinking. He shaped many careers, especially Jonty Rhodes’s.’

Pegasus
The Jamaica Pegasus Hotel

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Woolmer resigned after South Africa were knocked out of the 1999 World Cup in England. In 2000, he found himself enmeshed in scandal, over match-fixing, when Hansie Cronje confessed to accepting four bribes from bookmakers. In 2002, Hansie’s plane crashed into the rugged Outeniqua Mountains. Untouched by the scandal or the death, Woolmer agreed to coach the Pakistan team in 2004. The countdown would begin.

Mountains
Outeniqua Mountains

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The 2007 ICC Cricket World Cup was held in the West Indies. On 16 March, the day before Pakistan played Ireland, guests arrived at the Pegasus for the pre-match cocktail party. There was an uneasy atmosphere. Woolmer turned to the Irish journalists and accused their Pakistani counterparts of being out to ruin him at the behest of former players Imran Khan and Javed Miandad.

Next day, Pakistan were knocked out of the World Cup by Ireland. Woolmer reached room 374 just after 7.30pm and ordered apple pie with ice cream from room service. At 3.12 AM he emailed his wife expressing his unhappiness. Seven hours and 33 minutes later, he was found lying naked on his back, his legs splayed. There was blood in his mouth and vomit on the walls.

It is a pity that a fantastic coach, an elegant batsman of some quality and a life full of colorful experiences around the world would forever be remembered, at least by the casual followers of the game, because of that gruesome death.

A post mortem conducted by the government pathologist Ere Sheshiah led him to conclude that Woolmer was killed by asphyxiation due to manual strangulation. Jamaican police decided they had a murder on their hands but later abandoned the investigations after consulting with other experts who determined Woolmer’s death was due to natural causes.

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It was Bob, who legitimised the reverse­ sweep, encouraging Warwickshire’s Dermott Reeve to play the stroke in earnest. It was he who mentored Jonty Rhodes, helping the freakishly gifted Natalian to revolutionise the role of the fielder in the modern game. It was he who kept Allan Donald firing on all cylinders. It was he who made it not only acceptable but essential for coaches to use digital media as tactical aides.

Perhaps, one day, we will speak of coaching ‘before Bob, and after Bob’.

This year marked a decade since his death.

Hansie and Bob.jpg
Hansie and Bob
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