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Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - The mysterious demise of Bob Woolmer

Cricket World Rewind: #OnThisDay - The mysterious demise of Bob Woolmer
©Reuters
 

March 18, 2007 - Woolmer was found unconscious, lying naked on his back in the bathroom, shortly after Ireland knocked Pakistan out of the 2007 ODI World Cup.

 

After losing the opening match of the ICC ODI World Cup 2007 against West Indies by 54 runs, as Ireland caused an upset to beat Pakistan by three wickets, the team hit rock bottom. Twenty-four hours after being knocked out of the world event, as the news of team head coach Bob Woolmer's death came in, it induced utter shock in the country and across the cricketing world.

 

The crude facts are: Woolmer was found unconscious, lying naked on his back in the early hours of 18 March in the bathroom of room number 374, on the 12th floor of the Jamaica Pegasus hotel. He had blood in his mouth and the walls were covered with vomit. He later passed on in the hospital.

 

It was known that Woolmer, who was on medication for diabetes, was dealing with a deteriorating health. But, that the death came hours after one of the biggest losses of his coaching career, led to several conspiracy theories.

 

Due to the shameful loss of Pakistan in the world event and with the knowledge of the passion with which the sport is followed in the country, there were rumours that an enraged Pakistan fan or a group could have spiked the coach's food or drink. There was also the angle of the involvement of an underworld bookmaker who had lost millions due to the team's defeat.

 

The fact that the probe by the Jamaican Police itself came up with contrasting versions only increased the mystery surrounding the death. The man heading the investigation was British-born Mark Shields, the then deputy commissioner of Jamaican police.

 

 On 21 March, the police reported that the initial findings of the autopsy were “inconclusive”, and announced they were treating Woolmer’s death as suspicious. Three days later, the fears were substantiated when an emergency press conference was called and it was declared that Woolmer was murdered, the exact cause of death was ‘asphyxia as a result of manual strangulation.’

 

Worse was feared when minutes before the Pakistan team were preparing to board a flight to London, captain Inzamam-ul-Haq, assistant coach Mushtaq Ahmed and team manager Talat Al were asked to step aside for questioning over alleged ‘ambiguities’ in their statements only to be released later that night.

 

It did not help that reports surfaced of a row between Woolmer and his players on the team bus after the Ireland defeat. However, the detectives in Jamaica were not convinced with the murder theory as they didn’t find any marks on Woolmer's body.

 

A shoddy forensic investigation, proof that Woolmer’s health was worsening and the detectives having the final say meant that on 12 June, the Jamaican Constabulary Force announced that Woolmer had in fact died of natural causes and that it was not a murder.

 

The then Pakistan captain Inzamam-ul-Haq rememberers the fateful night. “When we lost the match against Ireland, we entered the dressing room very quietly. He asked me ‘what’s the plan?’ and I said ‘let’s talk tomorrow over breakfast’. But he never came for it. I went back to my room and got a call from someone asking to come to his room.

 

“Police had come to his floor and they didn’t allow me to go inside Woolmer’s room. He was taken to the hospital and soon news came that he was no more. The entire team was shocked. The doctors had declared the death as murder and we were all left stunned by it,” Inzamam said.

 

Woolmer, who played 19 Tests and 6 ODIs for England, was banned from international cricket at the age of 33 when in 1982, he was part of a rebel tour of apartheid South Africa, led by Graham Gooch, which defied the British government's policy of sporting isolation for South Africa.

 

He was a trailblazer when it comes to introducing technology in cricket coaching. Unfortunately, the world couldn't have more of Woolmer.

 

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