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Woolmer - an average player but a great coach

The late Pakistan coach was the first of the state-of-the-art mentors, who once made South Africa almost invincible. Atul Sondhi pays tribute to Woolmer on his 59th birth anniversary.

india Updated: May 14, 2007 20:05 IST

He was an average player but a great coach. Bob Woolmer, who may have failed to brighten up the world with his batting for England in the seventies, but he certainly set new standards as coach. He would have turned 59 today.

The cause of Woolmer’s death is till shrouded in mystery, and may remain the same forever. But when the dust has settled, the cricket loving fraternity will remember him for what all he could have done for the team of Pakistan, and what all he did for South Africa.

When playing for Pakistan, he did not get the kind of support he needed to translate his ideas into practice. Religious fervour considerably diluted the cricketing acumen of the team, which was seen in its, still rankling, loss to Ireland in the World Cup.

However, earlier for South Africa, Woolmer did force the cricketing world to take notice of his coaching acumen. His image and successes made it imperative for every other coach to be seen with the laptop. It was certainly the image of an intellectual, masterminding the conquest of the world.

But then even a genius needs conditions to bloom. After his failure to take Pakistan to the heights that was expected of him, stinging criticism was expected, even on a dead body. But probably the biggest letdown was Razzaq’s obervation that "Bob was a very shrewd operator. He was a coach just by the nature of his job."

The Pakistan all-rounder also said that "on the surface he acted as an Asian but inside he was only interested in keeping his job irrespective of victory or defeat."

But these uncharitable remarks hardly pass scrutiny if we take Woolmer’s record with South Africa. A team with which he could communicate in English, and in non-religious terms.

Woolmer with South Africa (1994-1999)
Matches
Won
Lost
NR/Tie
Win%
Tests
44
21
9
14/0
47.72
ODIs
117
83
30
3/1
70.94

So with South Africa, Bob won every second Test match and lost one in five matches. An exceptional record for any coach.

But even more impressive were his ODI credentials. Eighty-three victories, or seven wins from every ten matches, is a record any non-Australian outfit will die for.

However, the criticism he faced with a temperamental Pakistan team was not a new experience. Controversies were Woolmer’s first name. He went on a rebel tour, tried mid-match communication with Cronje, and rejected ECB advances for a coaching assignment in 1999.

The last one was to turn fatal eight years later. But then, do the mortals, that include even super coaches, have any way of knowing that?