Woolmer has his eye on laptop and `runs'
It is one of the terrific ironies of life that
Pakistan's cricket coach on its forthcoming tour of
India is a certain Bob Woolmer. The last time he
vent his spleen on conditions in the Indian
sub-continent was five years ago when he was the
cricket consultant of the United Cricket Board of
South Africa. Spitting venom, he stressed: "For the
western stomach, the subcontinent is a place where
the word `runs' takes on a completely new meaning.
"The water there," he said, "is below standard
generally, and you take ice in your drinks with
trepidation. Everywhere we went, the question was
asked, `is the ice filtered?'"
"The other abiding memory is the sheer chaos on the
roads and the wonder that there are not more
accidents. It would seem that in order to pass the
Indian driving test, you have to drive with your
hand firmly attached to the horn - and because cows
are sacred in the Hindu religion, you stop as they
walk across the road.''
Bob Woolmer (right) duruing his previous
'avatar' as South African coach with the late
probably thought he had seen the last of India, for
on that tour the South African coach was Graham
Ford. Woolmer was then flying high. Although the
South African team whom he had groomed on their
return to international cricket was not the best
team around, he had worked wonders with its
brilliant fielders, quality fast bowlers and a
barely average batting line-up.
Woolmer, he of the laptop fame, did not enjoy much
success as an international cricketer. The
Englishman, though, made his mark as the coach of
the South African side. His wards and team were,
however, exposed pretty badly when they toured
India in 1996. So much so that one top retired
Indian cricketer, taken aback by Woolmer turning up
at cricket venues with a computer and also working
furiously on it, poked fun, asking if it taught his
batsmen to play spin bowling. The South Africans
were at the receiving end in that series, but the
in-puts that went into Woolmer's gizmo came in
handy when they toured India again, in 1999-2000.
They thrashed India 2-0 in the two-Test series and
ran them close in the One-Day series, which was
later tarnished by accusations of match-fixing
indulged in by Hansie Cronje and others.
In that series, the South Africans won the Mumbai
Test by four wickets inside three days and went on
to crush India by an innings and 71 runs in
Bangalore. The visitors banked heavily on accurate
fast-medium bowling and a string of all-rounders
who provided depth to the batting.
The lines the fast bowlers bowled were plotted by
coach Woolmer. These strangled the Indian batsmen.
Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock, Nantie Hayward, Hansie
Cronje, alongside Jacques Kallis and Lance Klusener
proved so potent with the tactics that Nicky Boje
had little to do other than bowling a tight line
and length and contributing with the bat.
It was obvious even then that Woolmer had done
tremendous homework and his plans paid off. At
least eight Indian players from that series --
Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid, Saurav Ganguly,
Mohammed Kaif, VVS Laxman, Anil Kumble, Murali
Karthik and Ajit Agarkar-are around. And that must
be heartening for Woolmer who, going by the
composition of the Pakistan team, might well be
banking on a similar strategy to fox the Indians.
The 'new' Woolmer - with Pakistani legend Imran
absence of fiery rebel Shoaib Akhtar might actually
be a boon for Woolmer. For, it is difficult to
imagine a fast bowler of Shaoib's bloated ego and
temperament having the discipline to fall in line
with the team's plan. But the other pacemen,
Mohammed Sami, Naved-ul-Hasan, Abdul Razzaq and
Mohammed Khalil will certainly adhere to the
instructions of Woolmer. Off-spinner Arshad Khan,
Danish Kaneria perhaps, and maybe even Shahid
Afridi will concentrate in blocking one end, much
in the manner of Nicky Boje of 2000 vintage.
The Pakistani batting line-up of skipper
Inzamam-ul-Haq, Yusuf Youhana, Younis Khan and a
whole lot of youngsters looks far more impressive
than the one Hansie Cronje carried with him to
India in 1999-2000. Pakistan's support team of
trainers, coach, bowling coach and manager is a
decidedly no-nonsense one (in that it is not
retirement benefits given to ex-stars).
India need to be on guard. Woolmer knows that crowd
pressure can cut both ways. If he puts India under
intense pressure, the crowd could well turn against
the home team. The South Africans used this to good
effect in 1999-2000. There is no reason to doubt
that the Pakistanis, egged on by Woolmer, will do
any different. Manipulating the crowds and
situations could be the watchword in the series.
India therefore have to ensure that their most
experienced batting line-up, Tendulkar, Dravid,
Laxman, Ganguly and Sehwag are in the fray to
handle the most stressful of situations. The time
to milk their combined experience is now. For it is
only when the batsmen put up huge runs on the board
can the Indian bowlers exert pressure on the rival
And once that happens, Woolmer, for whom fate has
ensured that there is neither ice nor open drinking
in Pakistan, can contemplate during his `runs' in
the sub-continent that it does not pay to have a