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The man who introduced computer coaching

Published Mar 20, 2007 12:00am

PORT-OF-SPAIN, March 19: Bob Woolmer's death at 58 deprives cricket of one of its most innovative thinkers who became a pioneer in introducing modern technology into a centuries-old game.

The Pakistan coach was declared dead in hospital on Sunday after he was found unconscious in his hotel room in Kingston.

His team had crashed out of the World Cup less than 24 hours earlier after losing to debutants Ireland.

Ironically, part of his duties in a previous job had been to help develop the game in countries which did not play the game at elite Test level. One of them was Ireland.

Born in the Indian city of Kanpur, Woolmer became one of the world's leading coaches on the back of a solid playing career in English county and Test cricket.

A respected all-rounder at first class level who played for Kent and South African provinces Natal and Western Province, Woolmer also played 19 Tests and six One-day internationals for England between 1975 and 1981.

He was one of Wisden's Five Cricketers of the Year in 1976, and he scored three test centuries at an average of 33.09.

Woolmer bowled medium paced swingers and was an elegant right-handed batsman with a free-flowing, fluent flourish.

But it was as a coach, after his career petered out having joined the Kerry Packer breakaway cricketing revolution during the late 1970s, that Woolmer would leave a far greater mark on the game.

He soon became recognised as one of the more free-thinking coaches, a reputation he earned first with Warwickshire and then confirmed during his five years at the helm of the South African national team.

Woolmer almost single-handedly popularised the reverse sweep and his coaching methods required players to think beyond the accepted boundaries of the game. He was one of the first coaches to take a laptop computer into the dressing room.

His attention to detail was complete. To improve his wicket-keepers, for example, he would study the way football goalkeepers moved and pass on his findings.

Warwickshire won three of the four domestic trophies on offer in England in 1994, the same year Woolmer left the county to take up the reins with South Africa.

South Africa were whitewashed 6-0 in their first series with Woolmer as coach, a one-day tournament in Pakistan that also featured Australia.

But by the time Woolmer resigned as South Africa coach after the 1999 World Cup, the team had won 83 of their 117 one-day internationals they played under his guidance – a winning percentage of 72.80 – and 10 of the 15 Test series they contested.

At the World Cup in England in 1999, Woolmer almost guided his side to the final but a bizarre run-out in the semi with eventual winners Australia robbed his side of victory when the scores were tied.

He said on Saturday that this was the worst moment of his career.

His tenure, though, was marred by a match-fixing scandal which led to the life ban of his captain Hansie Cronje.

Woolmer was untainted personally by the episode and, after leaving the post for a second spell at Warwickshire, campaigned for Cronje's reinstatement. Cronje was killed in a plane crash in 2002.

He took over as Pakistan coach in June 2004, one of the most high profile and stressful positions in the international game.

Controversy again followed him in August 2006 when his team were accused and punished for ball-tampering during the fourth and final Test with England at the Oval.

The team refused to take the field on the penultimate day after being docked five runs and became the first country to forfeit a Test match.

His contract with the Pakistan Cricket Board (PCB) was due to run until June 2007 but it was widely thought he would not complete it in the wake of the defeat by Ireland on Saturday.

He said in a news conference that the hassles of life as a top international coach had left him questioning his future but Pakistan officials said on Sunday that he was already plotting improvements within his ageing team.

A universally popular, phlegmatic character, Woolmer had made his home in Cape Town. He leaves a wife, Gill, and two sons.—Reuters