Whatever else World Cup 2007 might be remembered for, it will forever be associated with the passing away of Bob Woolmer. Truth be told, we are yet to get over the shock of his death for, apart from being one of the most innovative coaches, he was also a wonderful human being who always had a moment for anyone wanting to talk about cricket.
Is his death indicative of the enormous pressure on international coaches? I don’t know, really, because Bob never seemed the kind of person who would succumb to pressure. There may have been the odd day when he felt the heat more than usual, as we all do. That is a condition that affects players and coaches alike, given the hectic international schedule these days, and Bob was professional enough to realise that. I am sure we will know more about what caused his demise in the coming days, but for now, all our thoughts are with his family.
It is an irony of fate that the World Cup that saw the last of Bob Woolmer is also the one in which the so-called minnows have come to the fore. Bob was instrumental in taking forward the ICC’s High Performance programme, which involved the development of cricket in ICC member countries.
The way Bangladesh and Ireland triumphed over India and Pakistan, respectively, may have come as a surprise to many, but I was not surprised by Bangladesh’s performance. They have developed into a pretty competitive side over the past year and have beaten quite a few top teams, including Sri Lanka. They have gradually shed their ‘minnows’ tag and against India, their self-belief was high. They played as a unit and, more importantly, played without fear. They have progressed so well that they are expected to win against the likes of Canada, Ireland and Zimbabwe.
Bangladesh do have the ingredients required for a successful cricketing nation — large population and intense passion for the game. They have also put some very fine facilities in place, which we saw firsthand when we toured the country. I believe they are starting to reap the benefits of a strong domestic competition.
Finally, they have in Dav Whatmore a coach who has the experience of having coached a developing cricket nation, Sri Lanka. He has a good grasp of working with teams from the subcontinent and I would give him a lot of credit because it can’t be easy licking your wounds all the time, with media around the world criticising and even laughing at you. To his and his team’s credit, they have remained focused on development rather than improving their win-loss ratio. They have made a very good case for the development programme, and though that does not mean they will win big matches consistently from now on, they do prove that, given time, they can make an impact.
They have developed a definite method, as they showed in the match against India, in which they exploited the conditions very well. That the pitch was offering slightly uneven bounce should have been clear after our match against Bermuda, when a guy bowling at 120 kmph rapped Sanath on the glove. The pitch was obviously not as flat as was expected, and Bangladesh capitalised on that.
All of this means that we will hit the ground running against them. Our policy has always been to take each game on merit, irrespective of the opposition, and while I don’t deny that all teams will have experienced a subconscious shift in mental gears after Bangladesh’s dramatic win against India, we never had any intention of taking them lightly anyway. We will field a full-strength side because we are now in the business of World Cup cricket, where there’s no room for leisure.