The Death of Bob Woolmer 5


Like many cricket fans, I am greatly saddened by the extraordinary death of Bob Woolmer.

I remember warm summer Saturday afternoons in Norfolk where I would sit with my grandfather before the television, watching the Test match, the slightly sickly ripe fruit smells from the orchard wafting through the open window.

I could easily google to check, but what follows is memory; accuracy is not the point.

English cricket was at a low ebb. We were regularly getting blasted out by the sheer pace and skill of the Australian and West Indian bowlers, and had little with which to reply. John Snow and Bob Willis were not quite in the same league, and after that Chris Old, Geoff Arnold, Paul Lever were from an altogether lesser world, much as I loved and cheered their straining efforts.

Now Bob Woolmer was never much more than military medium. Heavily built, even in his prime he always looked a bit like he had on a sweater under his shirt. He could wobble the ball about a bit, but his selection was a sign of England’s bowling paucity.

At Kent, in a team outrageously endowed with batting talent, he wasn’t particularly regarded for his batting. In his first Test, I believe he came in at number 10.

What followed was truly remarkable. As England’s premier batsmen dangled their bats listlessly outside off stump apparently longing to give an edge, Woolmer was compact, deft and organised. Not aggressive, but not a nurdler either – he could play meaty drives that looked classical, foot advancing to meet the pitch of the ball and without room for a wafer between bat and pad.

Thus he began a climb up the batting order that represented one of the more extraordinary careers in Test cricket, from tail-ender to middle and top order and ultimately opener. His Test career was all too brief, but he established himself firmly in the pantheon of my adolescent heroes. He went on to pioneer modern cricket management, with great success in South Africa.

Now this murky end. The Irish defeat of Pakistan was glorious fun; a shadow will now hang as to whether it really was too good to be true. The extraordinary world of massive betting on cricket and match-fixing again seems to surface before us. It is impossible not to remember that Woolmer was Hansie Cronje’s coach when he was throwing matches, and wonder again at Cronje’s own violent end.

I do hope Woolmer was an innocent victim in all of this. When I remember him now I recall his courage as a batsman, the warm sun and my grandfather. Let it stay that way.


5 thoughts on “The Death of Bob Woolmer

  • Richard II

    Here is a contrasting memory of British sport.

    As a kid, I recall Saturday Grandstand. Football, cricket, and horse racing were the mainstays of that programme that went on for what seemed – for a kid, at least! – an eternity – about four or five hours.

    How depressed I felt. Why does Britain have to be so depressing, I thought?

    A few years later, I saw America's X Games on TV, motocross, and the Tour de France. In Tennis, Britain finally had a "champ", Tim Henman, but the only guy who made tennis exciting was John McEnroe, an American!

    And it all brought home to me – along with the schizophrenic weather, the Queen, and the class system – what a dull and depressing place Britain is, and still is!

  • Strategist

    "It is impossible not to remember that Woolmer was Hansie Cronje's coach when he was throwing matches, and wonder again at Cronje's own violent end."

    Craig, can you remind us please about the Cronje case? I was shocked & amazed that Bob Woolmer had been murdered. Matthew Engel's comment a couple of days ago that there was no bookie on Earth that had enough money to persuade Pakistan to throw a match that would cause them to miss out on Phase 2 of the Cricket World Cup rung true to me at the time.

    Then I read he had been writing a book that some people didn't want to see published – a circumstance that must have resonance with you. Can we persuade you to speculate about what may have been happening here??

  • Craig

    The mainstream media have now caught up, so you've probably seen this elsewhere. Hansie Cronje was the South African cricket captain who resigned after confessing to taking bribes from criminal gambling syndicates based in Mumbai. Shortly thereafter he died in a light airplane crash, that many at the time felt was convenient.

    Woolmer was of course the coach of South Africa at the time. What people forget is that the team most implicated in that scandal was Pakistan. Among those heavily involved was Inzamam ul Haq, who was simply fined by their board. Inzamam was of course the captain of Bob Woolmer's Pakistan team now in Jamaica, which was knocked out through losing to Ireland – possibly the longest odds bet in the history of cricket. Makes you think.

    I love to watch Inzamam bat. He looks like WG Grace reincarnated. But Cronje too seemed the epitome of courageous grit in sport. This is all very horrible.

  • Strategist

    Thanks, I think I've got it now.

    The criminal gambling syndicate place a bet at long odds for an improbable result and then pay the team captain to make that result happen. It's the bookies who actually lose money.

    And if anyone looks like the're going to blow the lid on the scam, they kill them. I say, that's not cricket.

  • Craig

    Yes. There is another scenario. These are illegal bookmakers largely based in Mumbai.

    Indian and Pakistani cricket supporters can be fanatically patriotic; therefore they can take massive bets on them to win, with very little bets on the opposition. If the bookies can fix it so they lose, they will really rake it in, without having to balance out the odds as legitimate bookies do.

    Take this example. Pakistan would expect to beat Ireland 49 times out of 50. So if a bookie offers Pakistan at 3 to 1 on, that looks a very good bet. You can put ?1,000 on Pakistan and make ?333 profit, with only a 2% chance in real life that it may go wrong. Or if you are a rich man, you can put ?1,000,000 on Pakistan to win and make ?330,000 profit, with only a 2% chance in real life that it will all go wrong and you will lose your million. At the same time you can demonstrate your Pakistani nationalism.

    The reason cricket is so good for this kind of thing is that the third result, a tie, is almost insignificantly unlikely – although the Pakistani group did throw out one of them too.

    Anyway, if the bookies can fix the unlikely result, they can trouser huge sums. The Mumbai illegal gambling industry has been estimated at 2 billion dollars a year.

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