South Africa's fielding coach pays tribute

Bob was more than a coach to me - Rhodes

Andrew Miller in St Kitts

March 21, 2007

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Rhodes: Technically Woolmer was a good coach, but he had passion, and for me it was more the passion and his attitude towards coaching © AFP

The South African camp has been in a sombre mood since the news broke of the death of their former coach, Bob Woolmer, on Sunday. But of all the players in the squad who knew and respected him, none can have had closer ties than Jonty Rhodes, the team's fielding coach, whose career was hand-moulded by Woolmer.

"The two most important people in my cricketing career were Hansie [Cronje] and Bob and they're both gone," said Rhodes. "I just hope they're not in heaven picking a team because I don't want to be next."

Under Woolmer's tutelage, Rhodes was transformed into the most electric fielder in the world, but he still had to hold down a place as a batsman alone. "My cover drive was beyond help," he said, "but Bob adjusted it. Technically he was a good coach, but he had passion, and for me it was more the passion and his attitude towards coaching. He made it exciting, and he made it fun. It was not about 'you have to do it this way'. He actually gave us options.

"Every week we had the 'Abuse the Coach' award," added Rhodes, "but Bob used to give as good as he got. I had an amazing relationship with him. He was more than just a coach, and he had a way of giving off of himself and it was something I could relate to. That made him more than a coach to me."

Woolmer was in charge of South Africa's fortunes for five years from 1994, and Rhodes admitted that his departure - in the aftermath of the team's traumatic exit from the 1999 World Cup - was a big loss that they are only now beginning to overcome. "Similar to Hansie's leadership he wasn't easy to replace," said Rhodes.

"In the same sort of way he too was an allrounder. He could be a batting coach and a bowling coach. Like Jacques Kallis, if you replace him with a batsman, the bowling side is weak, and if you replace him with a bowler, the batting side is weak. Bob had that allround ability as a coach, and that comes with the way I coach as well."

The emotions in the Australian camp, understandably, have not been running as high, although Mike Hussey spoke of the "hollow feeling" in the pit of his stomach that he has had since Sunday. "We're pretty shocked by the news and it's quite saddening. I had a great respect for the guy, he's done a lot for world cricket and it's disappointing news for everyone. All our condolences go out to the Woolmer family."

The latest revelations to have filtered out from Jamaica are uncomfortable for everyone associated with the game, although Hussey would not be drawn into the speculation surrounding Woolmer's death. "I know they are doing the investigations and a lot of words are being thrown about," he said. "But we're very confident we have excellent security in place, and we are very happy with how things have been run."

Andrew Miller is UK editor of Cricinfo

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Andrew Miller Andrew Miller was saved from a life of drudgery in the City when his car caught fire on the way to an interview. He took this as a sign and fled to Pakistan where he witnessed England's historic victory in the twilight at Karachi (or thought he did, at any rate - it was too dark to tell). He then joined Wisden Online in 2001, and soon graduated from put-upon photocopier to a writer with a penchant for comment and cricket on the subcontinent. In addition to Pakistan, he has covered England tours in Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, South Africa, Australia and New Zealand, as well as the World Cup in the Caribbean in 2007
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