Pakistan v Ireland, Group D, Jamaica March 17, 2007

Woolmer apologises on Inzamam's worst day



Inzamam-ul-Haq overcomes his disappointment to congratulate Trent Johnston on Ireland's victory © AFP

Inzamam-ul-Haq and Bob Woolmer refused to speculate about their futures after this humiliating defeat, but Pakistan cricket can certainly expect a night of the long knives similar to that which followed the debacle in 2003. Both men suggested that winning the toss had evened up the contest, though neither was prepared to make excuses for a diabolical batting display that reduced them to 72 for 6 before a late flourish took the total to 132.

"We have to wait and see what happens next," Woolmer said. "Basically, our World Cup is over. I didn't think their bowling was anything special. From my perspective, we just didn't score enough runs." Inzamam chose to sing from the same sheet, but he wasn't quite as dismissive of Ireland's bowling effort. "The pitch was difficult, they bowled well and we batted poorly," he said, face downcast after what he called "the worst day of my cricketing career".

For Inzamam, whose World Cup adventure started back in the halcyon year of 1992, it will all end with a meaningless outing - for Pakistan anyway - against Zimbabwe. But even in this darkest of hours, he didn't lash out at those who had let him down so badly. When asked if Mohammad Yousuf's dismissal could be cited as the moment when the tide turned to swamp Pakistan, Inzamam said: "He was set, and we needed a big score from him. But when everyone has flopped, it's not right to pinpoint any one thing as a turning point."

Before taking charge of Pakistan in 2004, Woolmer was closely associated with the ICC's High Performance Programme, which has endeavoured to improve standards of play in the Associate nations. And while he didn't think that such countries were ready to mix it with the big boys on a day-to-day basis, Woolmer reckoned Ireland's triumph was vindication of the effort put in.

"I'm not going to say that they'll close the gap soon," he said. "There were extenuating circumstances today. It was a grassy pitch, and the toss was important. But I'm fully in favour of 16 teams. Playing against such teams can be a banana-skin, and you saw that today, with Bangladesh beating India as well. I think you can say that March 17, 2007 will be a historic day for cricket."

Woolmer's contract runs out after the World Cup, and an extension is unlikely after this reverse. He wouldn't say whether this was the end of the road as far as coaching international teams was concerned. "I'd like to sleep on my future as coach," he said. "I've had bad days before, the worst of them was at Edgbaston in 1999 [when his South Africa team missed out on the final despite the game ending in a tie]. Things like this happen in cricket."



Mohammad Hafeez started the Pakistan procession and they were dismissed for 132 © AFP

Inzamam too had no idea what the future would hold. "It's only been a few minutes and I can't say what I'll do," he said. "Since we haven't performed, changes are likely and needed too." Asked if it was a heartbreaking way to end his World Cup innings he said: "Every player has to go some day. I've had my innings, and you can't really choose the way you leave."

To add to Inzamam's woes he was fined 50% of his match fee for Pakistan's slow over rate, which fell four short. Inzamam pleaded not guilty to the level two offence, but Chris Broad, the ICC match referee, ruled against Pakistan's captain and each player was also docked 20% of their payment.

Despite the setbacks, there was still time for a droll moment, as someone asked what sort of reaction he anticipated when the team arrived home. "In my view, there won't be a reception," said Inzamam poker-faced, as a laugh escaped Woolmer's lips.

When asked what went wrong, Woolmer didn't sugar-coat his words. "We hit balls in the air to fielders, we stopped balls with our pads in front of the stumps, that's what went wrong. We're sorry we performed like we have. We didn't mean to do it."

It's unlikely that such an explanation will wash with a nation in mourning. And with India also humbled, more than half the subcontinent certainly won't be engaged in any St Patrick's Day revelry.

Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo