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Bob Woolmer: A colorful life cut short

By Michael Power for CNN
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LONDON, England (CNN) -- Murdered Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer lived with the sport from his cradle to his grave.

When his parents bought him home from the hospital in Kanpur, India, where he was born in 1948, Woolmer's father placed a cricket ball and bat in the baby's cot, and said: "Son, I hope this will be your life," reported cricketing Bible, Wisden's Almanac in 1976.

In a bitter twist, it may even be that the game played a role in his death -- he was found strangled in his hotel room on Sunday, March 18, say Jamaican police, following an unexpected loss by the experienced Pakistan team to Ireland's selection of part-timers.

Detectives leading the investigation say they will investigate every possible motive for the murder, including rumors of match-fixing and betting fiddles.

Woolmer's is a death straight from the pages of an Agatha Christie murder mystery, and some are already suggesting the Pakistan-Ireland match may have been fixed.

One of the world's most renowned coaches, Woolmer's career was peppered as much with controversy as achievement at the highest level of the game.

It is fitting that the death of such a singular, influential and controversial figure should have overshadowed the Cricket World Cup in Jamaica.

Woolmer played 19 Tests for England, but made his reputation as international coach, first with South Africa and then with Pakistan.

He came to the fore as an all-rounder in the 1970s in a strong Kent side, as a tenacious middle-order batsman and medium-paced seamer.

He joined a crisis-stricken England side in 1975, and in his second Test he saved his side when they followed on against Australia, with a valiant, eihgt-hour rearguard innings against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to score 149.

He was crowned as one of the Wisden Cricketers of The Year in 1976, but although he added two more centuries, his defection to Kerry Packer's World Series Cricket threw the brakes on his career.

Woolmer was lured by WSG's revolutionary day-night matches and the lurid colored kits which are now standard fare in modern cricket.

He returned to the England fold but his Test career was effectively over when he joined the lucrative rebel South African tour of 1981-1982.

Injury forced him to retire prematurely in 1984 at the age of 33.

Woolmer's coaching career started at Warwickshire, where he won a string of trophies in the early 1990s, prompting his appointment as coach to South Africa in 1994.

Woolmer was widely respected both as scholar of the game and a constant innovator -- he was the first coach to use a computers as a coaching tool to zone in on players' weaknesses.

He caused controversy, too, when he sent South Africa captain Hansie Cronje to the crease in a World Cup match in 1999 wearing a two-way radio earpiece to receive mid-match instructions.

His backing of Cronje amid graft allegations in 2000 also cast doubts on his judgment, although there was never any suggestion that he was involved in the matchfixing scandal which brought down Cronje.

But his innovation and insight were not just technological. He later encouraged younger Pakistan players to compete at football together, to break down divides between teammates who saw captain Inzamam-ul-Haq as unapproachable. Cricket, he felt, was a game to be enjoyed.

Trouble followed him again, though, in August 2006 when his team were accused of ball-tampering during the fourth and final Test with England at the Oval.

Woolmer, amid chaotic dressing room scenes, asked his players to swear on the Koran that they had not tampered with the ball, BBC journalists reported.

Every player did, perhaps explaining why his team refused to play on the penultimate day after being docked five runs, so becoming the first country to forfeit a Test.

After a brief stint as the International Cricket Council's high-performance manager, he had taken on the toughest job in the sport as Pakistan's new coach in June 2004, and signed a contract to helm the team until this World Cup.

His future as coach seemed uncertain following last week's humiliating defeat to Ireland. The only certainty now is that cricket has lost one of its best-loved and most colorful characters.


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