seek inspiration in books by business tycoons and ancient Chinese military
strategists, but Bob Woolmer had a curious volume on his nightstand last fall.
During a press conference the coach of Pakistan's national cricket team
mentioned he was reading Snakes in Suits, a psychological study of the
Machiavellian personalities that can run amok in the corporate world. "It's
all about what a psychopath is," Woolmer said. "It is somebody who
claims he is behind you 100 percent and then gives you a nice knife in the
back. It's strange I'm reading it at this time."
not if someone is really out to get you, and last week, with Woolmer at the
center of a murder mystery, his taste in books felt especially chilling. On
March 18 Woolmer, a burly 58-year-old Englishman who had coached Pakistan since
2004, was found unconscious in his Kingston, Jamaica, hotel room, lying on the
floor amid a spatter of vomit, blood and excrement. He died a short time later,
less than 24 hours after Pakistan, the No. 4 team in the world, had been
eliminated from the Cricket World Cup by lowly Ireland. It was a historic
upset, the sport's Miracle on Grass, and Woolmer and his players were burned in
effigy on the streets of some Pakistani cities. Early speculation was that
stress from the loss had brought on a heart attack or, perhaps, that Woolmer
had committed suicide.
Last Thursday the
case turned more sinister, a whodunit that made the World Cup above-the-fold
news in places where few know a batsman from a bowler. Jamaican police said
someone strangled Woolmer—probably someone he knew, since there were no signs
of forced entry. No suspects had been identified as of Monday. Police were
studying hotel security videotapes and DNA evidence found in the room and
awaiting toxicology reports that would show if Woolmer had been poisoned as
is that of an upper-crust pastime played by white-clad gents who interrupt
matches for tea. But the sport has a sleazier side that may be responsible for
Woolmer's murder. Gambling investigations and drug scandals have rocked
big-time cricket in the last decade, and conspiracy theories quickly bubbled up
out of that swamp. Some in the cricket community felt Woolmer's killer may have
been a crazed fan, a notion made plausible by the chants of "Death to Bob
Woolmer" that rang out during near riots in Pakistan after the Ireland
There was also
speculation that Woolmer was done in by someone afraid that he knew too much
about cricket's gambling problem. In the last decade a handful of elite cricket
players have been caught in betting scandals. The worst was in 2000, when South
African national team captain Hansie Cronje admitted he took money and gifts to
throw matches. Woolmer was the coach of that team, and there were rumors he was
working on a book that would blow the whistle on widespread
match-fixing—perhaps even during Pakistan's World Cup flameout. "I surely
feel that he has been bumped off," former Pakistani player Sarfraz Nawaz
said. "I have little doubt that certain team members as well as top-ranking
[Pakistani Cricket Board] officials were in touch with the betting
Gill, insisted there was nothing in the book about match-fixing and that there
were no threats against her husband. In fact, the only recent conflicts Woolmer
was known to have had were with his own team. A former star batsman in England
and an innovative coach who pioneered the use of video and computer analysis,
Woolmer was well-respected within the sport. But he had been having trouble
with his underachieving team in recent months. In February he was accused of
using a racial slur against one player, a charge Woolmer denied. He also
bickered with bowler Shoaib Akhtar, one of two players who tested positive for
the steroid nandrolone last fall. Pakistani players were questioned and
fingerprinted by Jamaican police, but none were detained. Most of them flew to
London on Sunday, their first stop on the journey home.
Around 3 a.m.
local time on March 18, about seven hours before he was discovered by a
chambermaid, Woolmer sent his wife an e-mail, telling her he was distraught
over the Ireland loss. Earlier that night he had sent a resignation letter to
Pakistani cricket officials, saying he was tired of "personal attacks"
against him and would move home to Cape Town after the World Cup. Woolmer
wanted to coach at the grass roots level; his heart, perhaps, was no longer in
elite cricket. The game had lost its soul, Woolmer seemed to think. It may have
lost its conscience too.
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