Bob Woolmer was remembered as a passionate man who lived and died for the sport he loved during a memorial service in his adopted South Africa. The on-going murder inquiry has prevented Woolmer's body from being flown back from Jamaica for a private funeral service, but friends and colleagues gathered at Cape Town's Wynberg high school to give him a public send-off.
"He lived for the game and he succumbed to the game," Allan Donald told the mourners. Donald, South Africa's leading Test wicket-taker, 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 said in reference to South Africa's exit from the 1999 World Cup.
Woolmer was found dead, presumed strangled, in his Jamaican hotel room on March 18, a day after Pakistan were dramatically ousted from the World Cup by 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. Reports have also said Woolmer's body has been embalmed, which could make a second post-mortem difficult.
His death 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. 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 scandals, saying the publication "does not include the word match-fixing". Fighting back tears, Noakes described Woolmer as a "cricket missionary".
Noakes said 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 South Africa 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 and the Pakistan cricket team, Bob loved you."
The Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Nasim Ashraf conveyed the sadness of his government and people at Woolmer's death, telling his family: "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," he said, "even at that time, he never made any excuses and stood by his troops."
Ashraf announced that an indoor cricket centre in Lahore would be named after Woolmer. "He lived cricket, he loved cricket and he died for cricket," he said.
Mourners included the former South Africa players Nicky Boje, Paul Adams and Gary Kirsten. Bert Erickson, of the Avendale Cricket Club in the Western Cape, told 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.