On this day: Born May 14, 1948: Bob Woolmer, English cricketer

Nick Said

By Nick Said

CAPE TOWN (Reuters) - Bob Woolmer was nicknamed 'The Scientist' and became arguably the greatest cricket mind of his generation but he may be remembered more for the way he died than for his immense contribution to the game.

Born in the shadow of the Green Park Stadium in Kanpur, India, the middle-order batsman played 19 tests and six One-Day Internationals for England between 1975 and 1981, with all three of his five-day hundreds coming against Australia in Ashes clashes.

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But it was as a coach that he left a lasting impression on the game, first transforming Warwickshire into a powerhouse on the English county circuit and then leading South Africa to the number one position in tests and ODIs during a five-year spell.

"They called him The Scientist," former South Africa fast bowler Allan Donald told Reuters. "That is exactly what he was, an inventor. He got people out of their comfort zones.

"He got people to reverse-sweep, to reverse lap, he was the first coach that ever did that. He literally had sweeping camps."

Donald said Woolmer could get players to buy into his plans like no other coach he worked with during his illustrious two-decade long career.

"When you heard him speak... I was full-blown ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), so I couldn’t sit still for too long, but this guy made me listen. He was interesting, exciting and I wanted to be part of what he was doing.

"He turned around, single-handedly, South Africa's thinking, the approach, the way we played. We became number one in the world in tests and ODIs in the late 1990s. He was just a phenomenal individual.

"He told us, ‘You are allowed to make mistakes. We train to win, but we also learn to lose. But if we learn to lose, we are going to explore everything that the game has given us'. I will never forget that and it is the way I coach now."

Woolmer took over as Pakistan coach in 2004 and immediately changed their fortunes for the better, but it was while he led the side at the World Cup in West Indies three years later that he died, amid some controversy, at the age of 58.

Pakistan had hours earlier been ousted from the tournament by minnows Ireland in a shock result. Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room and declared dead on arrival at hospital.

An autopsy was inconclusive, but five days later Jamaican police stated that he had been murdered, likely by manual strangulation.

It led to conspiracy theories around match-fixing and retribution against Woolmer for the result, with some fingers even pointed at Pakistan’s players.

But three months later the investigation concluded he had died of natural causes and a jury returned an open verdict.

"All these allegations kept coming up, it was this and then it was that, then he choked and all sorts," Donald said.

"I was absolutely devastated. As the news evolved about how he died, and then the theory that he was murdered … it just became bigger than anything."

But he added that his controversial death should not detract from the legacy Woolmer left for the game.

"I saw Wasim Akram at the World Cup in England last year and he said the Pakistanis still say today that Bob Woolmer was the best thing that had ever happened to them."

(Reporting by Nick Said; Editing by Ken Ferris)

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