| Consulting the foreman
Bob Woolmer died on Sunday the 18th of March. Well before the news came in, I spent that afternoon in a north London pub as part of a three-person wake for Pakistan’s World Cup dreams. One of my co-mourners was a friend from Lahore, an expert on Pakistani family law but, besides that, a very knowledgeable and effective coach with a junior cricket club here in London. Though we also drank in projection of the probable demise of India after their mauling by Bangladesh, we both knew that my friend’s loss was incomparably greater than mine — Bangladesh was a Toyota Corolla compared to Ireland’s Ambassador, and to be run over by that khatara was humiliating beyond natural comprehension.
“Those Bungalees took off your dhoti!” said my pal, “and now they are waving it around India Gate!”
“Where will poor Hippomam emigrate to now'” I asked, sipping my symbolic pint of Guinness in honour of the Irish, “Shall we talk to immigration lawyers here'”
“Alu' I think Haiti is a better option for him. Here there are too many Pakistanis.”
We briefly went through the business of taunting each other but it was an empty routine. Though we each maintain a healthy punchiness towards the other’s team, neither of us wanted our respective Old Enemy to be knocked out before the semi-finals, for me Pakistan chopped off preferably by India and for him vice versa; this Black Saturday had, we both agreed, ruined the full taste of the World Cup we’d planned to waste our April watching together.
In his post-mortem, my friend was scathing about Woolmer and his contribution to the hamburgerization of the Pak team.
Which coach would, on the eve of a World Cup, name a player in his column, (in this case opener Imran Nazir), and perfidiously write “I don’t know what he is doing in the team — ask the selection committee”' Which coach would start excluding good players because they couldn’t speak English properly' Which coach would send away half his hand-picked English technical team on the eve of the World Cup, in anticipation of taking over as England coach after Duncan Fletcher’s impending retirement' How come Wasim Akram could have sessions with Pathan, Sreesanth, some West Indian tearaways, helping each and every one of them, and not have one with his own Pakistani seamers' Because Woolmer didn’t want him to help! “The damage this man has done is unimaginable! Far worse than what Chappell has done to you people!”
Damage. The word came back to haunt us when we got back to my friend’s house and caught the news, first that Woolmer had been found collapsed in his hotel room, and then, that he had died. Along with carving into the Pakistani coach, my friend had also vented his ire at the vicious idiot of a Pakistani senator who had demanded the arrest of Woolmer and Inzamam the moment they landed back in Karachi, and now he was filled with remorse. The thing about not speaking ill of the dead began to niggle and our mood changed from livid to sombre.
A few days later, when it emerged that the police were treating Woolmer’s death as suspicious, our joking came back to haunt us: “Oy, kisney maar diya usko'” — who d’you think offed him' — was among the first wisecracks we had made, and then both of us had gone through our list of ‘suspects’, starting with our least favourite players in the Pakistan team. Now, as reports of DNA tests on players and the strangulation theories began to criss-cross our news-space, our shoulders dropped. It was bad enough facing a long London cricket summer with the ghastly little England frigate sailing around the sunken hulks of our two great dreadnoughts. But this murder, this was not something you would wish upon your worst enemy.
Putting aside the horror insofar as it can be, it might be instructive to compare the two recent terminations of coaching contracts, Pakistani and Indian.
Regardless of whether he was killed by Dawood Ibrahim’s brother or a chambermaid infuriated at the too early departure of one of her Pakistani sweeties, regardless of whether it was murder, suicide or just plain old, common-garden natural collapse, (policemen and forensics boffins have made mistakes before), Bob Woolmer’s demise was very much the death of a beleaguered tea-planter working in a semi-feudal situation. By all accounts, here was a man who had been given complete control over his estate and its workers — he could whip, deny pay, cajole and bully as was his wont; his foreman, Inzi, was a genial sort of jotedar who would hulk, scowl, chew gum, lead by example and pull his fellow-workers into regular prayer; the other workers may have simmered, but there was little they could openly do or say against the big bwana.
When the chop came, it was brutal. Even if it happened from natural causes, it was the humiliation of a disastrous crop that drove the gora sahab to the modern equivalent of putting his Elephant Gun to his own head — the tsunami of blood-sugar, the heart collapse, the slip in the bathroom, the head knock against the washbasin.
Mr G. Chappell’s departure, on the other hand, reminds one of the way in which corporate cowboys are sent packing from loss-making third-world concerns, Stetsons (or, in this case, bush hat) riddled not with bullets but slashed with far more lethal red ink. Here was a man supposed to be a profit-maker nonpareil; here he was, given a going concern with a healthy enough growth-curve, the curve brought about by a cautious type of CEO in John Wright; Boss GC’s job was to take the company from where Wright left it and really move it up into the stratosphere; instead, his mismanagement leaves it in a shambles: local top management manoeuvring against each other, workers up in arms, shareholders in despair, the whole economy around the company punctured and, perhaps, the ecology irreparably damaged. The sad thing is, like many of his corporate jaat-bhais, this disaster will probably not affect Chappell’s ability to take the helm of some other poor unsuspecting firm, though his chances of taking charge of Australia are now about on par with Bob Woolmer’s of taking over England.
What then, in this pantheon of late-middle-aged white men failing in the subcontinent, of messrs Moody and Whatmore'
Simple: Dav Whatmore could be seen as a classic NGO parachutee, working away manfully with what he has, rescuing, reviving, resuscitating, and doing a heroic job in a cause that is, for the time being, lost. As for the excellent Tom Moody, this columnist’s first choice by miles at the time of the last papal selection of India’s coach, he looks to have struck some kind of a proper balance with his host country and is, perhaps, destined, along with it, for great and deserved glory. It may be only a small stretch to imagine that this has to do with Sri Lanka and Moody himself managing to transcend the suspect old models of Feudal Master and Corporate Boss.