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.