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11

Part 11: Death and Weirdness in the Surfing Zone

by Aye Calypso 2

Test cricketers die. All the time. Some die at and advanced age (though none have yet cracked a century). Some die very young. Manjural Islam who died the other day was just 22. Ben Hollioake, Fred Grace, Archie Jackson, Trevor Madondo, Ken Wadsworth all died while young, still striving to play international cricket.

Charlie Absolom had a load of sugar dropped on his head while working on the docks. Johnny Douglas died trying to save his father during a shipwreck. Aubrey Faulkner stuck his head in an oven believing he was bankrupt. He had heaps of money. William Whysall tripped while dancing in a nightclub and died of the resulting infection. Raman Lamba was hit in the head while fielding at short leg. Andy Ducat had a heart attack while batting at Lord’s. Cota Ramaswami walked out of his family home believing he was a burden to his family, and was never seen again. Arthur Shrewsbury shot himself in the chest then when that didn’t work as intended aimed a little higher. Jimmy Blanckenberg joined the wrong side in World War II and disappeared into the murkiness of the Third Reich never to be seen again. Leslie Hylton killed his wife, and was hung by the neck until he was dead.

I think I am right in saying a test cricketer has never been a victim of murder, though there have been suspicions that Protea Tertius Bosch may well have been poisoned.

Bob Woolmer, in his late fifties, overweight, a diabetic, in a job where the stress is multiplied by a factor of 169 million odd, having just experienced the worst day of his cricket career, died in a hotel room.

It, rightly, subdued the World Cup like a spray of mace in the face. A bit like poor Andres Escobar who was shot to death during the 1994 Football World Cup, because of the own goal that ended Colombia’s campaign.

Everybody took a couple of days. They paid their tributes to a great coach and in a few weeks Woolmer’s passing would have become an answer at pub quizzes. That was until the Jamaican police called the death suspicious.

Suddenly with several hundred sports journalists of all creeds and hues in the Caribbean, with at least two days off between every match, the column inches and the conspiracy theories have been cranked up until Sabina Park’s grassy knolls become suspicious in themselves. The Australian paper came out all CSI, looking at the height of vomit in the hotel room. Associated Press meanwhile ran rumours that combined the Sopranos, with Came a Hot Friday, suggesting murderous bookies did for the coach. An Indian publication went way over board invoking the worst of John Grisham – Pakistan’s president no less had Woolmer topped. I won’t even mention the theory about the “crazy Moslem (sic) Taleban” that I saw.

There have been reports of blood, faeces and contusions on Woolmer’s neck. There have been reports of suicide. The simple tributes have been lost amid the squealing hacks thumbing their dictionary to find out how to spell ‘salacious’. On Wednesday even John “TLC” Campbell managed to dredge for prurience, breathlessly talking of the ‘underbelly’ of cricket in a lamentable interview with Richard Boock. It wasn’t the worst piece of cricket commentary I’ve seen, (Martin Crowe, step on up. Crowe’s comment after the death of David Hookes - “He faced a few bouncers in his career but couldn’t duck this one”) but was as pointless as Daryl Tuffey. Richard Boock looked uncomfortable for most of the interview in which he spluttered a few conspiratorial words before conceding he didn’t think it was murder, or suicide for that matter. I was reminded why Boock favours print.

I say let’s give Bob Woolmer some dignity. He was by all accounts a nice man, an innovative coach. His last 24 hours on Earth were perhaps the most disappointing he experienced. He died alone in a hotel room thousands of miles from his family. Let’s leave the Jamaican police to do their job, and not waste any more printer’s ink.

Hamish McDouall

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