On Tuesday, Hindustan Times published a tribute to Bob Woolmer, which mentioned a meeting in 2005 between him and the current Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul, the man who investigated the Hansie Cronje match-fixing scandal. HT’s Pradeep Magazine was present at that meeting.
We did not know on Tuesday that Woolmer had been murdered. But now that everyone’s worst fear has been confirmed, and suspicions that the global match-fixing mafia was involved in the killing have grown extremely strong, we have been flooded by requests from newspapers and TV channels across the world seeking to know exactly what transpired at the meeting. So here it is, exclusively for you.
Why did Bob Woolmer want to meet Delhi Police Commissioner KK Paul? There is widespread speculation about the possible involvement of a betting mafia and match-fixers in his murder, and the world seems to want to know whether there are any clues to the reasons for his murder in that meeting with Paul.
Let me go back to April 18, 2005, when I, after a request from the then Pakistan team manager Saleem Altaf, arranged the meeting at Paul’s New Delhi residence. Not for a moment did I think that Woolmer was investigating something serious.
During our taxi ride from Hotel Taj Palace to Paul’s residence, Woolmer became very emotional. He was all praise for Hansie Cronje, the man who was banned for life for match fixing, and who later died in a plane crash. Woolmer was the coach of the South African team that Cronje led, which toured India in 2000. It was just after that tour that Paul and his team cracked cricket’s biggest scandal.
Woolmer, it was obvious, did not believe that Cronje was guilty. And that was his main objective in meeting Paul: to "clarify" certain doubts in his mind.
The meeting lasted for about an hour. There were times when Paul lost his cool, especially when Woolmer began defending Cronje. Paul told him that the evidence and their investigation was foolproof and, at one stage, ticked off Woolmer for defending a wrong.
Paul asked Woolmer how he, as coach and as someone close to the captain, did not ever know or suspect that his players were on the payroll of bookies. Cronje, who admitted his wrongdoings to the King Commission set up by the South African government in 2000, had, on the eve of a one-dayer in Mumbai, held three team meetings to discuss a bookmaker’s offer to throw the match. Paul asked Woolmer how it was that he hadn’t been aware of those meetings. At that point, Woolmer became defensive, and said he had come to know of those meetings much later.
Another argument they had centered around Woolmer’s controversial move to communicate with Cronje from the dressing room via a earpiece during a 1999 World Cup match against India at Hove. The ICC had banned the innovation immediately.
Paul, an ardent follower of the game, got somewhat worked up and told him, "How could you do such a thing? Do you know what Cronje was up to? That he was a fixer?"
During the conversation, Woolmer made some vague accusations — dramatic but unsubstantiated insinuations — against a top Pakistani player who, he said, could be involved in match-fixing. But this seemed more in the nature of a reaction to provocation than an actual accusation.
During the drive back to the hotel, Woolmer and I spoke at length. Woolmer told me he was writing a book on corporate corruption in cricket, especially in the selling of TV rights, and about the way money is made from it by those connected with the game. I did not take him seriously then. Today, after his murder, who knows what evidence he had collected?
On Friday morning (around 7.30 pm in India), I called Paul from here to tell him I was writing this piece. He sounded a bit worried, somewhat irritated; he was being inundated with calls from reporters on this.
"What is there to write?" he asked me. "I don’t understand why people are raking it up now and linking it with a murder that happened in Jamaica."
I replied that I had to put the events on record — after all, it was murder. He finally said "okay", adding, "It has been two years, I don’t remember anything about the Pakistani player."
I said it was okay, and requested that he should say as much to the reporters who were calling him.