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Cricket Player Profiles: Bob Woolmer

Updated on May 23, 2017

Player, Coach and Commentator

Bob Woolmer contributed to the game of cricket as a player, coach and commentator. He played for England and after retirement coached the South African and the Pakistani international cricket teams. He was a right hand batsman and a right arm medium pace bowler. He was popular as Wollie among his friends and team mates.

Woolmer was born in Kanpur

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Kanpur, Uttar Pradesh 208001, India
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Early Years

Bob Woolmer was born in Kanpur, India, in a hospital which was just across the street from the Green Park cricket ground. His father Clarence Woolmer, who was in the insurance industry, was also a cricket player.

In Ranji Trophy matches in India, senior Woolmer played for United Provinces, which is known as Utter Pradesh today. He batted right-handed and bowled off-breaks.

For young Bob Woolmer, it was a case of cricket from the cradle. One story goes that when his parents returned from the hospital with the baby, the father placed a bat and a ball in one corner of the cot, saying, “Son, I hope this will be your life.”

Woolmer moved to England for his education when he was seven. He studied at the Yardley Court preparatory school at Tonbridge, and at the Skinner's School. He had learnt the basics of the game from his father. He was fortunate that the staff at Yardley Court was keen on cricket.

Woolmer started off by bowling off spin. He was fascinated by the speed of Fred Trueman and Brian Statham. During the last of his three years at Yardley Court, he switched his style to fast-medium.

During one of his winter breaks, when he was around 10 years old, he visited his parents and watched Hanif Mohammad score 499 runs at Karachi. The following summer, when his parents returned to England, he shifted to Skinners’ School, Tunbridge Wells.

It was in the Skinners’ School that he excelled at hockey. He remained a serious hockey player in the winters, ultimately reaching the level of Kent ‘A’ side.

Senior Woolmer was the captain of the Tonbridge 2nd XI in Club Cricket. Bob Woolmer started playing for the club when he was 14 years old. He walked in at No 11 on debut for the club, with the scores level, three balls to go. The older man at the other end walked down and asked him to keep the balls out. Woolmer blocked the first two, and stroked the third through the covers to win the match.

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Playing for Kent

During his stint for the under-15 side for his school, Bob was nominated to attend the Association of Kent Clubs at Seven oaks. There he came under the tutelage of Colin Page, who later became the manager of the Kent county side. It was Page who suggested that he should be a medium pace bowler. Woolmer implemented this suggestion.

In fact, it was as a fast medium bowler that Woolmer made his mark in school and club cricket. In the year 1967 Bob took three week’s off from his first job in the sales division of ICI to play for Kent 2nd XI. He was invited to join the Kent staff in 1968.

Woolmer debuted at Maidstone against Essex. He scored an unbeaten half century in the match. This performance underlined his claims as an all-rounder. Although he felt he was a batsman who could bowl, the team thought of him as a bowler first.

John Player League began in 1969. Bob's all-round skills were tailor-made for these entertaining Sunday afternoon romps. Kent missed John Shepherd, nagging swing bowler and hard-hitting lower-order batsman, who was away touring West Indies under Michael Colin Cowdrey, .

Woolmer filled up the gap and was Kent's leading wicket taker in the One Day league. In the first two seasons of the League, he was the first to reach 50 wickets. He ran in at a lively pace and bowled a nippy inswing. Against Sussex, he picked up 7 for 47 at Canterbury in the County match.

In the year 1970, Kent won the County Championship. After the last match of the season against Surrey at The Oval, captain Colin Cowdrey presented him with his county cap. Woolmer usually travelled to the ground in the captain's car.

Playing for England

Bob Woolmer played his first test match for England in 1975. All his test centuries were scored against Australia. He made his ODI debut against Australia in 1972.

Woolmer scored centuries against the likes of Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson. His record for England may not be impressive, but at the peak of his career he was good enough to be signed for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket.

Woolmer's decision to participate in the series had a huge negative impact on his playing career. He was one of those anti-establishment cricketers. He even hitched himself to the first ever cricket team to visit South Africa during their isolation. He retired from first class cricket in 1984.

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As a Coach

Woolmer was a qualified coach. After retirement he moved to South Africa. There he coached several high school cricket and hockey teams. He played a major role in the success of the Avendale Cricket Club in Athlone, Cape Town.

He relocated to England in the year 1987. He was very successful as a coach for the Warwickshire County Cricket Club. During his tenure the team won many tournaments. He was offered the job of coaching the England national cricket team, but he refused the assignment.

Bob Woolmer

Image in public domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons.
Image in public domain. Image from Wikimedia Commons. | Source

Successful Coach

Bob Woolmer revolutionized the profession of cricket coach. His innovative coaching methods were appreciated worldwide. He made effective use of computers for analysis. He moved to South Africa in the year 1994. He was engaged to coach the South African cricket team. During his tenure as a coach the team won 10 out of 15 test tournaments. His success rate in the ODIs was an impressive 73 percent.

As a coach, Bob Woolmer strived to have new approaches to deal with old problems. He had seen players in some sports in the USA wear small earpieces to enable them to get instructions from their coaches. He wanted to use it.

Woolmer tried the technology in some benefit matches in 1999. It not only worked well, but also went unnoticed. After confirming that it would not break cricketing laws, he suggested to Hansie Cronje and Allan Donald that they use it in the 1999 World Cup; they agreed.

The team used the equipment in the opening game against India in Hove on May 15. It attracted the attention of commentators and Indian openers Sachin Tendulkar and Sourav Ganguly, who brought it to the attention of the umpires David Shepherd and Steve Bucknor.

Umpires were not able to decide if the practice was legal. They consulted match referee Talat Ali. After checking with the ICC, the referee asked team South Africa to stop using the equipment. According to the ICC, even though the practice did not break any law, it was unfair.

Later Woolmer said, "All I was trying to do was give help and advice.... I'm sorry if I've upset anyone. I've tried to be innovative; the idea was to take the game forward. Where we erred was, I should have asked the ICC for permission. Perhaps I'm naïve, but it didn't occur to me. I felt it was a really good idea and I would like to discuss it with the ICC.

I'm not trying to disturb the batsman or the captain, I'm just wanting to offer some advice. They use it in American football and I believe the French used it in their World Cup campaign, so I felt it was a really good idea. Hopefully, it will make life easier for the cricketer."

He explained that the system did not intend to give instructions. "If Donald, for example, is not bowling with rhythm I could tell him to run in harder or more softly. It is a way of addressing technical faults by looking at the game from a different angle."

Coach of the Pakistan National Cricket Team

Woolmer coached the Pakistan cricket team from 2004 till the time he died. Under his guidance the team did well. They won the ODI series in India in 2005. In the same year they defeated the mighty English team in a test series.

Bob Woolmer helped many Pakistani players improve their game. Younis Khan, the first Pakistani batsman to score 10,000 runs in Test cricket, credited his success to his family and Bob Woolmer. Khan was particularly close to Bob and shared a healthy bond.

"I credit this success and achievement to all my family members, especially my late father, my mother and the late Bob Woolmer, who always motivated me," said the former captain of the Pakistan national cricket team after crossing the milestone of scoring 10,000 runs in April 2017.

Remembering Woolmer, Khan said, "When I came in I saw many legends retiring in 2003 and a lot of youngsters came with Bob Woolmer and we managed to come on top."

Death

Woolmer died on March 18 2007 in Jamaica. The cricket world was shaken when the 58-year-old coach was found unconscious in his hotel room. He was pronounced dead soon after arriving at Kingston hospital on the morning of the sad day.

On March 17, 2007, Pakistan played against Ireland in the World Cup. People expected a one-sided game of the greens aptly played on St. Patrick’s Day. In a cricketing sense, Ireland was as green as it could be. Surprisingly, it was Ireland that won by three wickets. Pakistan was all out for 132. The team crashed out of the World Cup due to this defeat.

Woolmer was apologetic about his team’s performance. “We have to wait and see what happens next. Basically, our World Cup is over. I didn’t think their bowling was anything special. From my perspective, we just didn’t score enough runs.”

His contract was expiring after the World Cup. The result against the team Ireland made it clear that it would not be renewed. Woolmer had refused to speculate on this. “I’d like to sleep on my future as coach,” he had said. After sleeping that night, he never woke up.

Woolmer spoke these ominous words on Saturday, March 17. On Sunday morning, his dead body was found on the white tiles of the bathroom of room 374, on the 12th floor of the Jamaica Pegasus Hotel. He lay naked, on his back, his legs splayed, as blood trickled from his mouth. The walls were sprayed with vomit.

Woolmer was under medication for diabetes. He was prone to violent coughing fits. The first reaction when the news of his death made its rounds was that he had had a heart-attack.

Some people suggested suicide. Of course, foul play was always on the table. Team's poor performance, proliferation of bookies, betting syndicates and their nexus with cricketers — all combined into blood curdling conjecture.

The Jamaican police suspected murder, but later announced that there was no sufficient evidence of any criminal act.

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Bob Woolmer may not be with us anymore. But he has left his mark in the cricketing world with his innovative coaching techniques. People close to him remember his schoolboyish enthusiasm for the game.

It is really unfortunate that he is remembered for his mysterious end. As an excellent all-rounder for Kent, he revolutionized cricket strategizing as coach of SA and Pakistan national cricket teams.

Summary

  • Bob Woolmer was born in India.
  • He played for England.
  • He was a right hand batsman and a right hand medium pace bowler.
  • He coached South Africa and Pakistan.
  • Woolmer's innovative coaching methods were praised by many experts.
  • Woolmer died in Jamaica.

Career Statistics

Competition
Tests
ODI
Matches
19
6
Runs
1059
21
Batting average
33.09
5.25
Wickets
4
9

The whole irony and tragedy of this particular story is law 42.3. But law 42.3 is an ass.

— Bob Woolmer, while speaking about his opinion on the ball tampering law.

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