If there was any proof needed of how high the stakes have become in the world of cricket and what unbearable levels of stress players and officials are subject to during the course of high-profile tournaments like the World Cup, Bob Woolmer’s death, most likely due to the emotional stress of Pakistan being knocked out of the Cup in the first round, is it.
Revolutionizing the role of the cricket coach from the glorified drill-instructor of the pre-Woolmerian days to the “laptop” supremo performing computerized data-analysis to mine weaknesses and strengths of team players as well as those of opponents, Bob Woolmer will always occupy a special place in the history of the modern cricket game. And ironically it is that modern cricket game, bankrolled by obscene corporate sponsorships, driven by media hype and fuelled by pulp patriotism, that by putting immense pressure on its stars to perform has brought them to their physical and emotional precipices, from where one push can send them over the edge — a disquieting fact now brought into cruel focus by the death of Bob Woolmer.
Bob Woolmer had undoubtedly one of the most stressful jobs in the cricket world: coaching Team Pakistan which has historically been a volatile bunch of extremely talented but combative individuals with barely concealed personal agendas and ambitions. Whether it being allegedly slapped by Shoaib Akthar or battling Afridi or trying to convince Inzamam, Woolmer displayed great patience and man-management skills trying his best to get everyone to work together (unlike a colleague of his who manages a subcontinental team that shall remain nameless). Maybe he did not have as much effect on Pakistan’s performance as he had on South Africa’s but it will not be wrong to say that given the constraints, very few could have done a better job than he did.
Farewell Bob Woolmer. You will be missed.
Farewell too to dear Inzamam ul Haq, that amicable Paddington bear, much caricatured and lampooned but at the end of the day, one of the best batsmen of this cricket generation, who retired from one day cricket today taking responsibility for having led Pakistan to its biggest debacle in recent memory. There was more than a bit of sadness here too as Inzamam, faced with the task of rescuing his team against Ireland, failed miserably — the same Inzamam who many years ago in another World Cup and in another similar hopeless situation had single handedly brought Pakistan victory with some of the savagest batting seen in modern times—thus poignantly reminding us of the inevitable atrophy of one’s talent that advancing years bring about.
And a final farewell to the glorious fighting spirit that characterized Pakistan cricket for the last twenty years. As an Indian fan, I had always been jealous of the immense all-round talent that the Pakistani team possessed from the mid 80s to the early 2000s. But the thing I had envied the most was their ability to win from the tightest situations possible: it was common knowledge that greater the challenge, more dangerous the Pakistanis became. A Manzoor Elahi would come from nowhere and take a match away, a then-insignificant player like Salim Malik would announce his arrival with an innings of blinding power in a cause all but totally lost, a dÃ©butante like Inzamam ul Haq could turn defeat into victory in the biggest stage possible.
Not any more though. Faced with a back-to-the-wall situation against Ireland there was no inspired performance, no Houdini-like escape as the teams of yore could come up with unerring predictability. Mohammed Yousuf, despite being in the middle of a Bradmanian run of form, could not fire when Pakistan needed him the most, the lesser lights of the team did not come up with career-defining innings/spells. And with two of their best bowlers under a drug cloud and one of their consistent performers injured, the talent cabinet that once overflowed looked desperately bare.
It has truly been a sad day for cricket.