By Monty Python
Bob is no more. As I looked at the television with amazement and disbelief of what I was hearing and seeing with my very eyes, my mind was filled up with images and of the man smiling at the reporters in the numerous news conferences. How could it be that the man to whom the cricketing world has so much debt, be gone from us all during the greatest cricketing fiesta of the world. No, it cannot be, there must be a mistake. But no amount of disbelief would ever take away the truth that Bob Woolmer, Laptop coach, has left us for the great game in the sky.
My romanticism with Bob Woolmer and South Africa started way back in the 1996 world cup. In the cricketing world, South Africa was still a relatively new team, playing only its second world cup. But what a team they were. Defeating all the group teams in kingly fashion to capture the imagination of thousands of fans in the subcontinent. The star of that team was the one man with laptop and some great new ideas for the game, Mr. Bob Woolmer, the coach of the team. Rarely have anybody ever heard of a team with no star players but with a star coach.
Bob Woolmer was a celebrated coach even before he started to coach the South African Team. He was the head of the Warwickshire county cricket team (where Allan Donald spent his cricketing career during and after apartheid). He joined Warwickshire in 1991, which was then a lowly county cricketing team, and within two years, he took the team to such a height that in the next two years it had won three of the four English first class cricketing titles when he finished in his stint with the side in the remarkable year of 1993. He then took the offer to coach South Africa and laid the foundations to make South Africa one of the strongest cricketing country in the world.
As a coach, Bob Woolmer was known as a progressive and thinking coach. He was also a man who felt for the game as well for the players. Always keen on bringing technology to the game, he was often seen during matches to be working busily on his laptop, feeding in numerous data about players and other things to analyze the game. South African players are not natural players of spin as most of their wickets are hard and bouncy. To counter this fact, he popularized the reverse sweep which the Africans used to effectively in their games against India and Pakistan. Indeed, South Africa was the only non Asian team to have defeated India and Pakistan in one tour of the sub continent. He also developed techniques for the wicket-keepers and applied the same training method as was devised for football goalkeepers. In the 1999 world cup, he also wanted the introduce radio communication technology by providing Hansie Cronje with a wireless earpiece. But perhaps cricket is not yet ready for all these new ideas he had. Under his coaching, South Africa won the highest number of test series and had the highest success rate in the One Day Internationals of all (around 73%). This is the testament of his effectiveness as a coach for a test side.
His love affair with South Africa yielded much heartbreak as well, especially at the world cups. In 1996, after being unbeaten in the group stages (5 wins in 5 matches including Australia), they lost to West Indies in the quarters. Then in 1999 a stupid missed catch by Gibbs and run out by Allan Donald saw South African crumble out after having the better of Australia in the semi-final match. After which he resigned as the team coach.
He was offered to coach England as well, which he denied for personal reasons, but luck carried him to the shores of the subcontinent, where he agreed to coach the Pakistan team, the most unpredictable and volatile team in the cricketing world.
His run of controversies started along with his stint with the Pakistan team. Pakistan team was plagued with everything, from ball tempering to Doping and Match Fixing. During all these torrid time, he appeared to be smiling and cool, professional as professional can be. Even when faced by ball tempering allegations and when Inzimam took the entire team off the Lords field, he remained the cool customer he had always been.
If I would look back at the world cup of 2007, it would forever remain the world cup where the world lost Bob. In the sports that learned to embrace different colours and brought together the greatest arch rivals India and Pakistan together under one roof, its greatest ambassador was gone. I am sure you will coach a great team in the great game in the heavens. We will miss you Bob. Good Bye!