Pakistan v Zimbabwe, Group D, Jamaica March 20, 2007

Pakistan keen to leave on a high



Younis Khan and Umar Gul warm up with a game of football on the eve of the match against Zimbabwe © AFP

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Games of football were one of the ways Bob Woolmer liked to break down barriers based on age and experience. With the ball at their feet, there were no juniors and seniors, just team-mates having a good time and aware that the goal couldn't be reached without everyone doing their bit. So it was poignant that Pakistan started their pre-match preparation for Wednesday's game against Zimbabwe with a game of football.

Mushtaq Ahmed, Woolmer's assistant, took charge of proceedings, and played himself, as did Inzamam-ul-Haq, who will captain Pakistan for the last time against Zimbabwe. Many in the team were absolutely devastated by Woolmer's death, but back on the grass and with a ball to kick around, the smiles started to return to faces. There was even some of the banter that typifies these sessions, and it was only once the boys were sufficiently relaxed that Mushtaq took them across for nets.

Pakistan have never departed a World Cup without winning a game, a fate that befell neighbours India in 1979, but Zimbabwe - who could still qualify for the Super Eights with a win - will pose a stern test. Mushtaq acknowledged that rousing the team for one last push would take quite some effort.

"The worst news was Bob's death," he said. "For many of the boys, it was like a father passing away. And quite a few were also depressed about Inzamam deciding to retire [from one-day cricket]. I went to each and every room to comfort them. Some of them were in tears [after Woolmer's death]. It's the biggest blow in the history of Pakistan cricket."

As a player, Mushtaq had a reputation of being a bit of a practical joker, but he admitted that coaxing a laugh or smile out of his wards was difficult. "Whenever we lost badly, I'd do my best to cheer the boys up. But this is not a game of cricket that we've lost. It's a life. I can't even begin to explain how much passion Bob had for our country's cricket, and how much he'll be missed."

As for Inzamam, Mushtaq reckoned that history would view his time in charge with kind eyes. "He took charge at a time when many of the boys had no experience," he said. "Some of them didn't even think maturely. He helped to nurture them. At times, he would even forego his own practice to take care of them. He always thought first of the team.

"He was a very good captain and role model for the boys. After he announced his retirement, they all went to talk to him. Some of them even told me: 'We need another man like that to captain us'."

Mushtaq also said that nothing would change on the field against Zimbabwe. "The one thing Bob taught us was that you have to be professional," he said. "My job is to organise things, Inzamam's job is to captain them. Before and during the match, each person has a role to play, and we'll all concentrate on that."

According to Pervez Mir, Pakistan's media manager, the team would have a remembrance meeting for Woolmer after the Zimbabwe game. "Tomorrow evening after the game, the boys will come out and pay their respects. And some of them may speak about what he meant to them."

Those words may be of solace to the Woolmer family, but the best possible homage to the man who spent three years with them will be a victory, with some of the men whose careers he resurrected delivering keynote performances.

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Dileep Premachandran is features editor of Cricinfo

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