Woolmer's murder knocks wind out of World Cup

Updated on Mar 23, 2007 08:27 PM IST
A police revelation that one of the most famous figures in cricket was murdered has knocked the wind out of the World Cup ahead of its 11th day of competition on Friday.
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Reuters | ByJon Bramley, Bridgetown, Barbados

A police revelation that one of the most famous figures in cricket was murdered has knocked the wind out of the World Cup ahead of its 11th day of competition on Friday.

Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer, 58, was killed by strangulation, Jamaican police deputy commissioner Mark Shields told a news conference on Thursday in Kingston where the Briton had died four days earlier.

The news sent shock waves through cricket -- a sport still concentrated in former British colonies -- and completely overshadowed the action in the 32-year-old tournament.

Cricket has long since cast aside its reputation as a "gentlemen's pursuit"; for decades countries such as India and Pakistan have followed the game with a fanaticism which rivals anything witnessed in soccer stadiums.

In 1996, a World Cup semi-final was abandoned because of a riot by Indian fans in Kolkata who saw their team were losing to eventual winners Sri Lanka. The Pakistan government ordered an inquiry into the team's World Cup failure the same year.

Nevertheless, the murder of such a high-profile figure is unprecedented and has very few parallels in any sport. The sport's governing body, the International Cricket Board (ICC), said the World Cup, which ends on April 28, would go on.

The immediate suspicion was that a "betting mafia" had been responsible for Woolmer's murder. Shields said every avenue would be explored.

Match-fixing in cricket has been a blight over the last 15 years and in the late 1990s the South African captain Hansie Cronje was banned for life for the offence.

Woolmer was the South African coach during this period but he was regarded in cricket circles as being untainted by the Cronje scandal.

The Pakistan team, numbed by Woolmer's death, woke in their hotel in Montego Bay on Friday after being flown there from Kingston at the behest of the Jamaican prime minister.

It followed a day of police interviews of players and other hotel guests.

Found uncounscious

Woolmer was found unconscious in his hotel room on Sunday morning less than 24 hours after his side's defeat by Ireland sent them out of the tournament in the first round, one of the World Cup's biggest surprises.

He was pronounced dead later in hospital. The Pakistan team will be giving DNA samples on Friday but the team management stressed this was routine in such an inquiry.

The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman said none of its players was a suspect. Other teams had also been at the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston where Woolmer was murdered and also questioned.

"The police are questioning everyone in the hotel in the case. Even West Indian captain Brian Lara and official Clive Lloyd have given their statements," Nasim Ashraf told Pakistan television.

He also said there was no restriction on the movement of the Pakistan team and they had gone to Montego Bay from Kingston to relax after the traumatic events of the last few days.

"Woolmer's death is a big tragedy for us and a terrible loss and the players are very upset. They are not suspects," he said.

Shields told Thursday's news conference that since Woolmer was a big man it would have taken "significant force" to have strangled him. They are looking for one or more culprits.

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