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Last Updated: Monday, 19 March 2007, 16:30 GMT
Mihir Bose view
BBC sports editor Mihir Bose gets inside sport
By Mihir Bose
BBC sports editor

The death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer is a sad loss to cricket, and particularly the relatively modern field of cricket coaching.

He brought both distinction and innovation to that role - who can forget Hansie Cronje, the South African captain, being equipped with an earpiece during the opening World Cup match of 1999?

Woolmer's coaching career also coincided with some very controversial moments in world cricket - in particular the era of match-fixing and the ball-tampering incident last year which led to a Test being forfeited for the first time.

My two particular memories of Bob date from these two high-profile moments in cricket.

Hansie Cronje
Cronje captained South Africa in 53 Test matches
The first was the spring of 2000 and, like him, I was then a guest at a BBC Radio Five Live studio.

He was publicising a book. I had been invited to talk about the news from India that police had tape recordings of Hansie Cronje, then the South African cricket captain, accepting bribes to throw cricket matches.

I knew Bob, had seen him play, and as we waited to go into the studio we chatted.

Cronje had indignantly denied the story and the world outside India accepted this explanation. After all, how could this seemingly dedicated Christian, a symbol of the new rainbow South Africa, ever be a cheat?

Bob had been South Africa coach until mid-1999 and I asked him what he thought of the story. I shall never forget his response.

The South Africans had just toured India and for the first time won a Test series there. It had led to the sacking of the then Indian captain Mohammed Azharuddin and the appointment of Sourav Ganguly. Indian cricket was in turmoil as a result of the defeat.

Bob saw his role as absorbing pressure for his players

Bob said: "You know, I wonder if this is an Indian trick to try and deflect what has happened to them as a result of the Test defeat?"

Bob was not alone in the view that the Indian story was rubbish and had been manufactured to defame the South Africans.

During our conversation on the sofa outside Five Live, Bob did not let on that he had been present when, on a previous tour of India, the whole South African team had met in Mumbai and considered accepting money from an Indian bookmaker to throw a one-day match.

Cronje had led the negotiations with the bookmaker but in the end the team rejected the offer.

Within weeks of our conversation, Cronje confessed, proving the Indian allegations to be very firmly based.

This incident would provoke controversy between Woolmer and Ali Bacher, the head of South African cricket.

Bob Woolmer at The Oval
Bob Woolmer at The Oval on the scheduled fifth day of the England-Pakistan Test

Woolmer claimed he had told Bacher of the incident in his report on the tour; Bacher denied it.

And while Bacher, who had promoted Cronje and seen him as the golden boy of South African cricket, accepted that Cronje was guilty, Woolmer just could not do that.

He would not agree that Cronje - by his lust for money, which led him to take bookmakers' cash to fix matches - had produced the greatest crisis world cricket has faced in recent years.

Woolmer was part of the South African cricket world's denial of Cronje's guilt, a denial which found expression during the 2003 Cricket World Cup when South African players and spectators dedicated the tournament to Cronje.

In many eyes, this will not reflect well on Woolmer, but a more recent incident has made me reassess what it means - that he saw his role as absorbing pressure for his players.

My second memory of Bob Woolmer is more recent. It dates to that traumatic Sunday of last summer's Oval Test when the Pakistan team of which he was coach became the first to forfeit a Test in cricket history.

Woolmer got the entire Pakistan team to swear on the Koran that they had not tampered with the ball

I was intrigued by the affair and during the course of it spoke to him on more than one occasion.

I learnt of the chaos and confusion that prevailed in the Pakistani dressing room after umpire Darrell Hair had decided to change the ball and judged that the Pakistani team was guilty of ball tampering.

Woolmer confirmed to me that Inzamam-ul-Haq, the Pakistan captain, did not at first understand why Hair had changed the ball. He only understood it when he returned to the pavilion during a break in the play.

The resulting anger in the Pakistani dressing room was enormous. In the middle of some of the most tense and tumultuous scenes ever seen in cricket dressing room, Woolmer got the entire team to swear on the Koran that they had not tampered with the ball. This they did.

There was conflicting advice as to what they should do. Woolmer found it difficult to get his ideas across, not helped by what he felt was the lackadaisical behaviour of some Pakistani officials.

He was also asked to give evidence to the Pakistan Cricket Board lawyers, something he found particularly onerous at an already difficult time.

The events of that afternoon and the days that followed made him consider resigning and he came close to it. He spoke to me at length during those days always in confidence and I was very aware of the heavy burden he was carrying.

It made me realise that, as with Cronje and the South Africans, he identified with his team and players, although in this case he also had to cope with language and cultural differences.



SEE ALSO
Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer dies
18 Mar 07 |  Pakistan
Cricket mourns death of Woolmer
19 Mar 07 |  Cricket
Obituary: Bob Woolmer
18 Mar 07 |  Pakistan


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