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A Gentle Man a Superb Coach Shaharyar Khan

The news of Bob Woolmer's murder deeply shocked me and I have written this appreciation in the memory of a dedicated professional and a superb human being. I had met Bob Woolmer cursorily before deciding, as chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board, to appoint him national coach. I had based the decision on the advice of Ramiz Raja, then chief executive, and on Bob's outstanding reputation as coach with Warwickshire and South Africa. I had also consulted the ICC, where Woolmer served as High Performance Director of Coaching.

To my pleasant surprise, Woolmer readily agreed and, at a meeting in a London hotel, we quickly agreed to the terms. I recall that at the meeting Woolmer demonstrated immediately his ability to interact sensitively with even the most difficult of players. Shoaib Akhtar had at the time adopted a position of non-cooperation with the PCB and had refused to join the national camp but Woolmer picked up the phone at the hotel and spoke to Shoaib in a most persuasive manner and obtained from him a commitment.

When Bob took over as coach, Pakistan were languishing in the lower levels of both Test and ODI rankings of the ICC tables. There was demoralisation, controversy and disunity among the players. Bob immediately addressed the issues of morale and performance in the team and worked assiduously to reverse these negative trends.

At a time of our lamentable exit from the World Cup, when the entire cricketing establishment is being blamed for Pakistan's failure, it is worth recording that during Woolmer's tenure Pakistan's performance led to the rise in its rankings to second and third spots in the ICC tables. Apart from the obvious improvement in performance, Woolmer was able to instil unity and a fighting spirit in the team that saw Pakistan succeed at home and abroad. Even when Pakistan lost to Australia and England, a fighting spirit was apparent with many a rearguard action and an ability to bounce back from reverses.

Bob Woolmer was not an authoritarian coach. He believed in gentle and sensitive persuasion of the players, spending hours with individuals demonstrating weaknesses of technique and even of attitude. He was an innovative coach and a master of developing coaching techniques to improve performance. He was opposed to dull routine and insisted on advanced fitness levels - an area he found shockingly inadequate when he took over coaching Pakistan.

I advised him not to interfere in religious matters and to work round the issue. Several weeks later he came to me and said that he had appreciated my advice and added that he had found that praying together several times a day had let to bonding and a welcome team spirit in the team

Woolmer was also a modest and sensitive human being. He decided with his colleagues to live in simple accommodation at the National Academy even though he was entitled to a more luxurious lifestyle. He accepted remuneration at a lower level than he would have found in the international market and his main ambition was to meet the challenge of making Pakistan's talented team a winning outfit. His emoluments were almost the same as for Javed Miandad whom he replaced as coach and about a third of the salary contracted by India with its foreign coach.

There were also several occasions when players, senior and junior, had differences with Bob. He never took umbrage at these outbursts and always went round later to the player to sit and rationally discuss the issue. He was nearly always successful and left the aggrieved player realising that facing disappointment equably was part of the game.

Woolmer also believed that the coach's role ended with the toss of the coin. He maintained that on the field, the captain was fully in charge of strategy and the players. After the game, he would return to the helm to analyse and advise. I recall that sometimes this stand-back role led to problems. For instance, in the vital Bangalore Test against India, the captain was batting and was expecting advice from the coach as to when the crucial declaration should be made. Bob felt that this decision was solely for the captain to make. I know that Inzamam was disappointed and I told Bob that perhaps he had on this occasion taken his non-interference too far.

Woolmer faced two major problems during his tenure. First, though he knew of my full support, he felt that senior officials in the Board were out to undermine his authority. On October 6, the day I resigned, Bob came to me with red eyes and said that he would also resign. I persuaded him not to do so, assuring him that I knew the new chairman would give him his full backing. I told Bob that the patron greatly appreciated his contribution in raising the team's performance and had on several occasions expressed this appreciation and had reiterated the need to support the coach.

Two days before leaving for the Caribbean, Bob came to see me saying he would be prepared to serve Pakistan even after the World Cup but the continuous sniping and harassment from PCB's senior elements would have to stop. He felt that it had been hugely disruptive to preparations and team morale. I again advised Bob to place his trust in the new chairman before making a decision.

The second obstacle that Bob faced was control of the team. Here he found that the captain's spiritual hold on the team prevented his holding full sway with the players, especially the senior members. Bob had some cricketing differences with Inzamam-ul-Haq but these were addressed through dialogue and mutual understanding, even though for days the captain would go into a brooding silence while Bob attempted to overcome the problem through rational discussion.

The more serious issue was that Inzamam was not only the cricketing leader but the spiritual talisman of the team who expected - and was mostly given - total obeisance by his team-mates. I recall Bob telling me, several months before the England tour, that he was severely hampered in addressing team issues because the players were constantly at joint prayers - at lunch, tea and after play. He said he never got a chance to coach the team. I advised him not to interfere in religious matters and to work round the issue. Several weeks later he came to me and said that he had appreciated my advice and added that he had found that praying together several times a day had let to bonding and a welcome team spirit in the team.

I will always remember Bob as a superb innovative coach who dedicated himself to harnessing Pakistan's wayward talent and transforming it into a successful motivated unit. To a large extent he had been successful despite the very real obstacles that he had faced. He was a modest, generous and warm-hearted man who gave his life for Pakistan. I cannot believe that anyone but a raving lunatic would have deliberately caused his death. His murder is a tragedy for Pakistan cricket.

I immensely appreciated Bob Woolmer's dedication as the national coach but beyond his professional abilities, I regarded Bob as a friend and a superb human being. I deeply mourn his death and consider it a national and personal tragedy.

The writer is a former chairman of the Pakistan Cricket Board

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