Woolmer evoked as Pakistan face Ireland in Cricket World Cup


Pakistan and Ireland will relive nightmarish memories of the World Cup’s most tragic moment eight years ago when they clash at the Adelaide Oval on Sunday.

It was on March 17, 2007 — St Patrick’s Day — that the unheralded Irish team stunned Pakistan in a group match at Sabina Park, Jamaica.

The loss knocked Pakistan out of the tournament but a bigger shock awaited them a day later when their coach Bob Woolmer was found dead in the bathroom of his hotel room in Kingston.

Woolmer, 58, who was on medication for diabetes, was lying naked on his back, and there was blood in his mouth and he appeared to have vomited on the walls.

When his death was made public, it was assumed to be a heart attack but there were also suggestions he had committed suicide.

After lengthy investigations that even included the possibility of murder, Jamaican police on June 12 announced that Woolmer had died of natural causes.

The inquest proved inconclusive, but the mystery lingers on and the pain that the cricket community endured during those horrific days dampened the mood for the rest of the World Cup which Australia went on to win.

Cricket-related deaths are uncommon, but the passing away of a team coach at the sport’s showpiece event after a defeat is a tragedy that took a long time to come to terms with.

Senior batsman Younis Khan, the only member of that 2007 Pakistan squad still involved with the ongoing World Cup, admitted he still missed Woolmer, their coach for three years from 2004.

“This is surely a very emotional game for me and all of us,” Khan said of Sunday’s match which takes place almost to the day of the tragic events eight years ago.

“I remember Bob a lot, he contributed so much to Pakistan cricket. Hope we can win this game and some more in the World Cup. There would be nothing better to dedicate to Bob’s memory.”

Three current Irish players, skipper William Porterfield and the O’Brien brothers, Niall and Kevin, were also part of that match, as was Eoin Morgan, now England’s one-day captain.

The India-born Woolmer played 19 Tests for England between 1975 and 1981 as a top-oder batsman, scoring 1,059 runs at an average of 33.09 with three centuries.

But later he became a respected coach who had a stint with South Africa before moving to Pakistan.

Allegations of match-fixing had been swirling around cricket at the turn of the century, with investigations by the Qayyum commission in Pakistan and the Central Bureau of Investigation in India naming several players.

Unsurprisingly, Woolmer’s death began to be linked with foulplay by the illegal betting mafia — fuelled by the fact that all 10 Pakistani wickets against Ireland fell to catches.

Pakistan were bowled out for 132, a target Ireland surpassed after losing seven wickets in a rain-interrupted game.

Woolmer, asked by reporters after the stunning loss whether he would resign, said he wanted to ‘sleep on my future as coach’.

The mystery deepened when Mark Shields, the deputy police commissioner of Jamaica, announced the coach had been murdered as the cause of death was “asphyxia as a result of manual strangulation”.

The then Pakistan captain, Inzamam-ul Haq, assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed and team manager Talat Ali were among those who were grilled by Shields’ team and were even forced to provide DNA samples.

Noted sportswriter Osman Samiuddin, who authored a recent book, ‘The Unquiet Ones: A History of Pakistan Cricket’ described the Woolmer tragedy as a “shitstorm of a period for Pakistan”.

“Some days it still feels as if something died not only within Pakistan’s cricket but in the sport itself that day,” he wrote on the Cricinfo website.

“The lack of closure remains the still-open wound of that (2007) tournament.”