Pakistan players pay respects to slain coach

Published: Monday, April 2, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Lahore:Pakistani players and dignitaries on Sunday paid their respects to cricket coach Bob Woolmer, two weeks after his mysterious murder that shocked the genteel sport and stumped Jamaican investigators.

Captain Inzamam-ul-Haq led a contingent of seven players among 400 mourners at Lahore's 100-year-old Sacred Heart Church, while officials lit candles and laid floral wreaths at a portrait of the late Englishman.

Archbishop of Lahore Reverend Lawrence Saldanha said Woolmer, found strangled in his hotel room on March 18, one day after Pakistan's shock World Cup exit to Ireland, was like a "second father" to his players.

"We pay tribute to his excellent qualities. He was known for his passionate interest in cricket. We salute him for his professional competency, as well as his sense of responsibility and commitment," Saldanha said.

"He was also a kind and gentle person who won the hearts of his players who looked up to him as a second father."

Inzamam, accompanied by teammates Salman Butt, Imran Nazir, Shoaib Malik, Mohammed Asif, Mohammed Hafeez and Kamran Akmal, said Woolmer was an "excellent coach and above all things was an excellent human being."

"After Woolmer's family, the Pakistan team was the most aggrieved by his death," Inzamam said during the hour-long service.

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Nasim Ashraf described Woolmer's death "a terrible tragedy" and said that he was a "rock of stability" who lived for cricket and loved the sport.

"He was internationally known and was the first modern coach of cricket. The world will follow his method and teachings," Ashraf said.

Kingston pathologist Ere Seshaiah has said his examination of the body showed that Woolmer was killed by "manual strangulation."

Woolmer's murder has triggered a frenzy of speculation about a possible link to match-fixing in cricket, although detectives in Jamaica have so far said they have uncovered no evidence of corruption.

The killing of the coach is also the subject of the biggest and most complex murder investigation in Jamaica's history, with police revealing that they are trying to trace up to 1,000 people staying at Kingston's Pegasus Hotel in the days leading up the killing.

Jamaica deputy commissioner Mark Shields, the detective heading the inquiry, has failed to announce any significant breakthroughs in the case and warned that the whodunit may take months to unravel.

A delegation of senior Scotland Yard detectives is to arrive in Kingston from London this week to "review" the progress of the investigation.

The team will consist of three detectives and a crime scene expert, London's Metropolitan Police told AFP Saturday. It was not clear when they would arrive.

"They will be looking to see if there is anything else we can do," Shields said on Friday. "You know when you're involved in any piece of work and you are right up against it, sometimes you can miss the most blindingly obvious."

The request for assistance from Scotland Yard has renewed media speculation about whether Woolmer was in fact murdered or died from natural causes.

Although Shields has said authorities continue to view the case "very categorically" as murder, British press were divided on the issue Sunday, with some reports saying police now believed Woolmer had died after a seizure, while others saying that he had been poisoned.

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