Ex-SA coach Woolmer dead at 58


19 March 2007

Tragedy struck the Cricket World Cup on Sunday when the death of Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer cast a pall over the tournament. The 58-year-old Woolmer, who enjoyed tremendous success as coach of South Africa, was found unconscious in his hotel room. He was rushed to hospital, but passed away from what is thought to have been a heart attack.

As coach of South Africa, from 1994 to 1999, Woolmer led the Proteas to victory in 75 percent of their one-day internationals. They also won 10 out of 15 test series under his guidance.

Together with Hansie Cronje, Woolmer was the face of a very successful team that, although it never won the World Cup, was the world’s premier limited overs side and second only to Australia in tests. Now the leadership of Woolmer and Cronje has, sadly, left the world far too soon.

Doctor Ali Bacher, the former CEO of the United Cricket Board of South Africa, was shocked to learn of Woolmer’s passing.

“During the five-year period that he was our coach, between 1994 and 1999, he was unquestionably the outstanding coach in world cricket. He was the most innovative, he was the most progressive,” said Bacher.

Allan Donald, who played under Woolmer at Warwickshire and for South Africa, described hearing the news of the coach’s death as “devastating”. He said Woolmer was more than a coach; he was a close friend too.

A huge impact
Shaun Pollock, who like Donald played under Woolmer for both Warwickshire and South Africa, credited Woolmer for having a huge impact on his career. Like many others, he spoke of the former Proteas’ coach’s innovative thinking and methods. He said Woolmer still had a lot to offer the cricketing world and he will be missed.

Current SA coach, Mickey Arthur, said it didn’t feel real. After all, he had enjoyed dinner with Woolmer only a few days back.

Arthur described him as a big friend of, and a mentor to, many South African cricketers.

Playing career
Bob Woolmer was born in Kanpur India in May 1948. A right-handed top order batsman and a medium paced bowler, he played cricket for England, Kent, Natal, and Western Province.

He played 19 tests, making his debut against Australia at Lords in 1975. A move to Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977 put his test career on hold, but he later he resumed it before effectively ending it not long afterwards when he joined Graham Gooch’s rebel team that toured South Africa in 1981/82.

However, despite his successes as a player, Woolmer truly made his biggest impact as a coach. Under his leadership, Warwickshire became the number one team in county cricket, as Woolmer’s innovations in the one-day game especially, captured the imagination.

When he took over as coach of South Africa, he lifted the Proteas’ status in the game to that of powerhouse. Woolmer’s ultimate dream was to win the Cricket World Cup and although it never came true, he came close as helped South Africa become the best and most consistent one-day team in the world.

“At the 1999 World Cup in England, we were the best team and he was the coach,” said Doctor Ali Bacher. It could be argued that, under Woolmer, South Africa was also the best side at the 1996 World Cup, but they fell foul of the format of the tournament where, after one loss only, following a string of impressive victories, the Rainbow Nation was eliminated.

It’s not just in South Africa that Woolmer’s achievements have been recognised, however, with tributes to him and his legacy pouring in from all around the cricketing world.

‘A great cricket man’
Malcolm Speed, the Chief Executive Officer of the International Cricket Council, said Woolmer was “a great cricket man” and said he would be missed by “thousands and thousands of friends within cricket”.

Brian Lara, a true superstar of the game, played under Woolmer, like Donald and Pollock, at Warwickshire. He said that even after leaving the county, his relationship with the coach continued to grow, adding that Woolmer’s “great love” he had for his charges stood out, and everyone who played for him felt appreciated.

Dennis Amiss toured South Africa with Woolmer and Graham Gooch’s rebels in the early eighties. The game, he said, “has lost one of its best, if not the best, coaches”. Woolmer, he said, was always looking for ways to make his players better.

Working for the ICC
Apart from his standout successes with Warwickshire and South Africa, Woolmer also spent three years working as an advisor to the International Cricket Council, before taking over as coach of Pakistan.

In addition to his work as a cricket coach, Woolmer also coached hockey in the Western Province.

His made his home in Cape Town where he lived with his wife Gill. He leaves her and two sons behind.

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