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Last Updated: Sunday, 18 March 2007, 20:52 GMT
Obituary: Bob Woolmer

By Paresh Soni
BBC Sport in Jamaica

Bob Woolmer
Woolmer played for England between 1975 and 1981
Bob Woolmer was a good batsman, an even better coach and, in a world of spin and media management, a refreshingly honest spokesman for the game.

When news of his death first came through, I was with Michael Holding at the Melbourne Cricket Club here in Jamaica.

The devastation written on the former West Indies bowler's face spoke volumes for the impact Woolmer made on the game and people he came into contact with.

Born in Kanpur, India, in 1948, Robert Andrew Woolmer came to prominence as a seam-bowling all-rounder in the successful Kent side of the 1970s.

He was called up by England for the second Test against Australia in 1975 and in his next Test appearance later in the series made 149 in more than eight hours to save the game, defying the fearsome Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson.

After scoring two more centuries against the Aussies he halted his international career by joining Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket revolution in 1977.

He was never as effective after returning, scoring 139 in the last four of his 19 Tests to finish with 1059 runs at an average of 33.09 before effectively calling time on his days as a top-class player by going on the rebel tour to South Africa in 1981-82.

Far from sliding into obscurity, he plotted a new route to the top as a coach in South Africa, and a steep upward curve started when he took charge of Warwickshire in 1991.

Four trophies in two years at Edgbaston earned him the job of coaching the Proteas in 1994, whom he turned into a real force following their post-apartheid re-introduction to the sport.

Under Woolmer, South Africa won 10 out of 15 Test series and were equally impressive in one-day internationals thanks to his tactical awareness and focus on sharpness in the field.

He loved talking about the game and was a pioneer in the use of technology to help his own players and to pinpoint the weaknesses of opponents.

Andrew Flintoff and Bob Woolmer
Woolmer jokes with England's Andrew Flintoff in Lahore, 2005
But above that, he was convinced enjoyment could reap bigger rewards than any amount of work with laptops and other gadgets.

The sensational tie against Australia in the 1999 World Cup at Edgbaston of all places, which he called "the worst day of my cricketing career", cost the Proteas a place in the final and Woolmer his job.

Despite that, he had won enough admirers in the game to come close to landing the England job, which eventually went to Duncan Fletcher.

After a spell as the International Cricket Council's high-performance manager, helping emerging cricketing nations develop, he was back in top-flight coaching with Pakistan in 2004.

He spent almost three years in one of the most difficult jobs in sport, keeping a sense of perspective in the most trying of circumstances.

Under his astute tutelage, wayward talents like Younis Khan and Shoaib Akhtar prospered, but he could never truly eradicate their notorious inconsistency.

Off-field problems, the politics undermining Pakistani cricket and divisions within the team came to a head in the traumatic last few months.

The ball-tampering row at The Oval, drugs bans for Shoaib and Mohammad Asif, subsequently lifted on appeal, and a blazing row with Shoaib in South Africa were all signs of an unhappy ship.

Amid all those crises Woolmer never ducked questions, offering honest explanations without comprising his or his team's integrity.

He could be outspoken too, whether it was about the congested fixture programme or the quality of pitches or umpiring.

It was the same on Saturday night after another dark day at the office saw Pakistan humbled by Ireland in the World Cup.

"Bobby" could easily have slipped away or resorted to clichéd platitudes but that was not his style.

He was being mooted as a possible successor to Fletcher and, to those of us in the media, he would have provided a stark contrast to the dour Zimbabwean.

Sadly, we'll never know.

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer dies
18 Mar 07 |  Pakistan
Woolmer's career in photos
18 Mar 07 |  Cricket
Cricket mourns death of Woolmer
18 Mar 07 |  Cricket


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