A coach who was not afraid to try new methodologies for the betterment of the game – however not always legitimate – Bob Woolmer was considered to be one of the most progressive coaches in the world. Be it using computer analysis or trying to communicate with his captain with earpieces, Woolmer never turned a blind eye to modern ways to make coaching simpler. However, in what could have been a long, successful coaching career, the former England international’s life was cruelly cut short in the middle of the 2007 World Cup, when his dead body was found in his hotel room just a day after Pakistan’s shock elimination at the hands of Ireland.
Was it a murder? Or did Woolmer die of natural causes? While the ambiguity continues, one cannot deny the fact that it was a huge loss to the game of cricket.
The 2007 World Cup had more matches, more teams than any other mega event in cricket history. Pakistan were placed in Group D, alongside West Indies, Ireland and Zimbabwe. It seemed to be an easy group, where Pakistan could at least go through to the Super Eights without any hiccups. Pakistan were in decent form going into the tournament having won a series at home against West Indies, drew the next one in England and lost 3-1 just before the tournament against South Africa.
Woolmer was appointed Pakistan coach in 2004. Upon appointment, his team’s results were positive. It included series ODI wins against India in India, a home Test series win over England – both in 2005. Success in Tests followed - they included a 1-0 win over India and Sri Lanka back-to-back.
However, his rein also saw a lot of controversies, with the ball-tampering row of 2006, being the worst. Pakistan were accused of ball tampering on day four of the fourth Test against England at The Oval, and as a result they were slashed with a five-run penalty. The Inzamam-ul-Haq-led side denied any wrongdoing and as a result did not take the field after tea. The match was forfeited and awarded to England. However, Pakistan were cleared of any wrongdoing later and umpire Darrell Hair was banned from officiating any more matches.
It is said that Woolmer was often outspoken about the fact that they prayed more than they played, which did not go down well with many Pakistani players who were extremely religious.
Woolmer had shown positive results in his previous coaching appointment of an international team. He played a key role in integrating an all-white South African team, had taken them to the No. 1 ODI ranking and were only behind Australia in Tests.
Pakistan lost to West Indies in the first match of the tournament, making the matches against Ireland and Zimbabwe must-wins. On St Patrick’s Day in 2007, Ireland did the unthinkable as they managed to beat Pakistan and knock the former champions out of the competition. Incidentally, there was an upset in Trinidad as well as India fell short against Bangladesh and would eventually crash out later in the tournament.
A day after the loss against Ireland, Woolmer’s dead body was found in the bathroom of his room on the 12th floor where he lay naked on his back with the walls around him sprayed with vomit. Initially, it sounded like he died of a heart attack, while there were some that suggested suicide. However, the fact that there could be foul play involved was not totally taken out of consideration.
Despite flirting with many theories – including strangulation, which his broken hyoid (U-shaped bone in the neck which supports the tongue) suggested a fallout between coach and captain over religion, suicide, etc. On June 7, 2007 it was declared that Woolmer had died of natural causes and the case was shut after consultation with a South African strangulation expert.
As a last ditch effort, Inzamam, Mushtaq Ahmed (Assistant coach) and Talat Ali (Team manager) were questioned just before their flight departed from the Caribbean as there were some ‘ambiguities’ in their statement, but nothing emerged out of it.
In fact, seven hours before Woolmer’s death, he had sent out an email to his wife stressing on how he was disappointed with the performance of the team. One of the last, if not the last person to see him alive was Pakistan cricketer Shoaib Malik, who took the elevator with Woolmer to the 12th floor, where the coach went into his room, only to emerge out of it as a corpse.