In the press conference following that catastrophic match, Woolmer said this had been one of the worst days of his life as a coach. The only other day that could perhaps compete with this level of hurt, would obviously be the 1999 World Cup semi-final where his then coached team South Africa narrowly missed making the final, where they would probably have been favourites to win (therefore at the other end of the achievement spectrum). Lance Klusener’s famous comment after that match rings out ominously today, “So what, no one died.” (It is another matter that Klusener’s casual attitude had driven his team-mates to great annoyance, and even rage, till 2003 when he was ceremoniously dumped from the team, never to return).
The world’s best known cricket coach was also perhaps the unluckiest. Just as South Africa were exceptionally unlucky in 1996 and 1999 to miss out on the grand prize. And just as the whole doping scandal of Pakistan’s best two bowlers annihilated their chances in this world cup. The pressures of managing a highly mercurial team such as Pakistan, and perhaps the disagreements with a relatively unimaginative captain such as Inzamam, would have taken their toll on this soft-spoken, thinking man (who perhaps thought too much?).
That it had to end with his boots still on, is one of the tragedies of modern sport, where it is achievement and not enjoyment that drives most individuals. Maybe some perspective will be temporarily regained by some, but it is unlikely that anything of much importance will change. Greg Chappell pointed out yesterday that in the next 18 months, India do not have a single month free of cricket. Players can be rotated, but not coaches. The whole money machine is getting way out of control, but that’s the only thing that seems to drive people these days.
Woolmer’s tragic death (which surprisingly is now being deemed “suspicious”) will probably mute cricket fan hysteria in Pakistan to a great extent. Pity it cannot do the same with the obnoxious Indian media (becoming worse by the week) – the latest from one of the TV channels is showing the mourning Pakistani players with saccharine background music, a voice-over asking if this is guilt manifesting, looping a snippet of Shoaib Akhtar mildly pushing Woolmer during a training session, ominous strains taking over the soundtrack, the voice-over enlightening the world about the trouble the Pakistani players gave Woolmer and then wondering how the Pakistani players will deal with the guilt of having killed their coach. Guess this is all about money too. What a different world Woolmer left, from the one he came into.