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He cared and made a difference

Someone who knows what Woolmer went through tells us how it is, and how he was, writes John Wright.

india Updated: Mar 22, 2007 01:14 IST

The untimely death of Bob Woolmer has been a shock, a real jolt — it feels that someone has been ripped away far too soon. Bob had a deep love for cricket, a genuine love. It consumed him.

He was always a student of the game. He used to reminiscence fondly of his early days at Kent. Bob was part of the county’s golden era of the 1970s, alongside his captain and mentor Colin Cowdrey, fellow English internationals Mike Denness, Derek Underwood, Brian Luckhurst and Alan Knott. The seeds of his coaching career were surely planted here.

I can’t help but imagine that Bob’s last few hours must have been very lonely. Away from loved ones and family, a big defeat — and only the empty hotel room to go to, yet again. Bob was a coach who cared.

He must have felt those first-round losses very deeply. I know when he first took over Pakistan, he believed he possessed a squad of players that was capable of winning the World Cup.

He had already suffered the heartbreak of having that prospect stolen away when South Africa muffed up against Australia in 1999, not once but twice.

For coaches, losing is stressful, especially if you care. You want victory for your players, for the bosses and, most importantly, for the fans. I have a poem in my diary called If by Rudyard Kipling and my favourite line goes: If you can meet with triumph and disaster and treat those two imposters just same.

As a coach I found that very hard. Particularly coping with careless defeat on occasions when the team lacked fight. An Indian fan came to me one day and said, “Coach, my son cried for three hours last night when you lost.” What can you possibly reply?

If you are doing your job as a coach, you don’t get many days off. The cycle of play, practice and travel is relentless. There is always someone who wants or needs to practise and your job as a coach is to see that they can. It is hard to forget the tough days. The game finishes, you've lost; then a chat with the team, reassuring or stern, try to satisfy an angry media in the press conference, pack up the gear.

The trick is to be able to switch off from the day’s cricket and be ready to go again the next morning. At the end of a lot of days, I would jog laps of the ground. It was time to think, and the harder the day the longer the run seemed to be. I’d play the guitar or have a beer and a meal with the physio or the trainer. But I also ended up eating a lot on my own. Despite receiving royal treatment in India, the toughest part for me was not being able to go home, see the family and lie on a favourite couch on the short breaks during home series. But you have to do your job and, like with any job, you have good days and bad ones. I had the times of my life with the Indian team — and it was also the toughest job I've ever done. No matter where you coach at the international level, the lake is never calm. Coaching any team is tough, no matter which country you are in.

When things went wrong for me, I didn't read too many papers. At least in India, my Hindi wasn't good enough to understand the criticism and my kids were not around to read it!

But I would bet that Bob would not regret a bit of his life as a coach. He loved the game, he loved his job. The job may well have had something to do with him not reaching ripe old age but he loved what he did and we all respected him for that.

Rest in peace, Bob. You made a difference and the boys you coached will say so too.