Mourners hail Woolmer in Cape Town service

Published: Tuesday, April 3, 2007, 23:53 [IST]
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Cape Town:The late Pakistan cricket coach Bob Woolmer was remembered Wednesday at a memorial service in his adopted South African homeland as a passionate man who lived and died for the sport he loved.

An ongoing murder inquiry has so far prevented the 58-year-old's body from being flown back from Jamaica to Cape Town for a private funeral service but friends and colleagues gathered at Wynberg high school were able to give him a public send-off.

"He lived for the game and he succumbed to the game," said legendary South African fast bowler Allan Donald told the mourners.

Donald, South Africa's leading Test wicket taker of all-time, credited his close friend and mentor with much of his success.

"But the one thing he could never coach me was to run between the wickets," he quipped in reference to South Africa's exit from the 1999 World Cup in England when Donald was run-out in the last ball against Australia.

Woolmer was found dead, presumed strangled, in his Jamaican hotel room on March 18, one day after former champions Pakistan were dramatically ousted from the cricket World Cup in a shock defeat to minnows Ireland.

Detectives are exploring the possibility that Woolmer was murdered with the cyanide-like poison aconite, which causes internal organ failure and forces the victim's breath to slow until it finally stops.

His death on March 18 has sparked one of the most complex murder investigations in Jamaican history and has triggered speculation about possible links to match-fixing and illegal betting in cricket.

Tim Noakes, who co-authored a book with Woolmer on the art and science of cricket, rejected suggestions the coach was about to expose any match-fixing scandals, saying the book "does not include the word match fixing."

Fighting back tears, Noakes described Woolmer as a "cricket missionary", adding that the global community of cricketers and all who loved the game now had to face the possibility that cricket "may have lost its moral compass."

He praised Woolmer, who was in charge of the South African national team between 1994 and 1999, as a man who had shaken hands with the queen of England and dined with presidents, but at the same time coached children in Cape Town's Langa township.

Donald read a statement on behalf of Woolmer's widow Gill and sons Dale and Russell, thanking well-wishers from around the world for their condolences.

"To Inzamam (al-Haq, Pakistan's outgoing captain) and the Pakistan cricket team, Bob loved you."

Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Naseem Ashraf conveyed the sadness of his government and people at Woolmer's death, telling his family: "I can tell you, we in Pakistan loved Bob."

He said he had received an email from Woolmer on the day of his death, as the shock of the exit at the hands of Ireland was still reverberating.

"One thing struck me, even at that time, he never made any excuses and stood by his troops," he said.

Ashraf announced that an indoor cricket centre in the Pakistani city of Lahore would be named after Woolmer.

"He lived cricket, he loved cricket and he died for cricket," he added.

Mourners including leading crickets such as former South African vice-captain Nicky Boje, spinner Paul Adams and opening batsman Gary Kirsten.

Bert Erickson, of the Avendale cricket club in the Western Cape, told mourners how Woolmer had defied apartheid era racial barriers by coaching teams of colour and setting up the first mixed-race boys' cricket team in the province.

"The great umpire has called time and lifted the bails and our captain has gone back to the pavilion," he said.


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