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March 18, 2007
Although Woolmer played 19 Tests for England, it was as an international coach that he really made his mark, first with South Africa and then, after a spell as the ICC's High Performance Manager, with Pakistan.
Born in India, Woolmer made his mark in a strong Kent side in the 1970s as an allrounder, a pugnacious middle-order batsman and medium-paced seamer. Although his England career was just getting started when he joined World Series Cricket, like so many who threw in their lot with Kerry Packer, when he returned he was not the player he had been. Injury forced him to retire prematurely in 1984.
Called up to an England side in crisis in 1975, in only his second Test he staged a great rearguard innings to save his side when they followed on against Australia, holding out for 499 minutes against Dennis Lillee and Jeff Thomson to score 149. He was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1976, but although he added two more hundreds, also against Australia, World Series Cricket checked his career in 1977, and he effectively ended it forever by joining the rebel South African tour of 1981-82.
His coaching career started at Warwickshire, and he immediately made an impact as the county won a string of trophies in the early 1990s. That led to him being appointed by South Africa in 1994. In his final season with Warwickshire he witnessed Brian Lara make 501 not out for Durham - as a schoolboy at Lahore he had been present when Hanif Mohammad set the previous record highest score for 499.
As a coach, his pioneering use of computers to show, for example, where opposing batsmen scored their runs may have stemmed from an experience of his own, batting against Mike Brearley's Middlesex. "Knowing I liked the cover-drive, he had Mike Selvey bowling at me wide of off stump, with two slips and two gulleys. In 45 minutes, I scored 12. Then I chased another wide one from Selvey and was caught at second slip."
In the 1996 World Cup, Graeme Hick was a notable victim of Woolmer's computer-based analysis, which revealed that if Hick could be kept scoreless for a spell, he tended to flick an off-stump ball in the air to midwicket. The trap was sprung by Fanie de Villiers, and Brian McMillan took the catch.
Woolmer was creative and adventurous. But his coaching was based on a simple premise: the more enjoyable he could make the game, the better his players would respond. No two fielding practices were alike when Woolmer was in charge.
After a spell as the ICC's high-performance manager, he was announced as Pakistan's new coach in June 2004, and signed a contract to remain in charge until the 2007 World Cup. However, Pakistan's form leading up to the tournament was poor, and when they lost their first two matches - the second to Ireland - it appeared unlikely that his tenure would be extended. The pressures of coaching Pakistan were immense, something Woolmer himself often admitted. Speaking to reporters in the immediate aftermath of the defeat by Ireland, he said: "Doing it internationally, it takes a toll on you ... the endless travelling and the non-stop living out of hotels."
He made 1059 runs at 33.09 in Tests, with three hundreds, and also took four wickets at 74.75. In all first-class cricket, mainly with Kent but also in South African state cricket, he scored 15772 runs at 33.55 and took 420 wickets at 25.87.
© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.
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