The Telegraph
Since 1st March, 1999
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Woolmer’s last words to team: ‘Come on, lift yourselves’
- Pakistan senior pro Yousuf remembers late coach emotionally

Chennai: “You’ve only lost a game of cricket... It’s not the end of the world and you’ll be playing many more matches... The mood now reminds me of how the South Africans felt (in Birmingham) after failing to make the 1999 final... Come on, lift yourselves...”

According to senior pro Mohammed Yousuf, those were the late Bob Woolmer’s last words in the Pakistan dressing room (Sabina Park, Kingston) after the shock defeat at the hands of Ireland, a loss which ended the 2007 World Cup campaign in the first-round itself.

Recounting that at the Bangalore airport on Thursday afternoon, waiting to board a much-delayed Jet flight for Chennai, an emotional Yousuf told The Telegraph: “I’ve worked with many coaches, but Bob was special... He knew his job and, to give an example, structured training sessions in such a manner that everybody came away better prepared... Bob was a zabardaast coach...”

In India for the Afro-Asia Cup (he top-scored for Asia in Wednesday’s opener), Yousuf added: “I’m not sure who is going to be our next coach, but Bob will definitely be missed.”

Yousuf, in fact, took the same elevator as Woolmer when the devastated team returned to the Jamaica Pegasus.

“Shoaib Malik and a couple of other players were also there and when it stopped on my floor (third), Bob quipped ‘ladies first’... We laughed... I didn’t get to see him after that...”

Being very particular about his prayers (Yousuf became a convert a few years ago), he was up around 5.00 the next morning and, then, went back to sleep.

“I got up again at about 11.30 and was informed that Bob had been taken to hospital... I assumed he’d fallen ill because of the stress... I never suspected foul play... Of course, it became unbearable when Bob’s death began to be treated as murder... Main aap se kya bataoon... Every minute seemed an eternity and look at the way we were treated — a throat swab was taken... Then, we were fingerprinted... It was terrible till we left the West Indies...”

The Jamaica police claim to have fresh information but, earlier this week, they somersaulted and announced that Woolmer’s death on March 18 had actually been of natural causes!

It’s no surprise that Yousuf, too, wants the Jamaica police to be sued. “Obviously, we can’t do so as individuals... After what each one of us went through — and we can’t forget those days — it’s for the Pakistan Cricket Board to do what’s necessary.”

Yousuf, who didn’t touch a bat for weeks after the World Cup shock, dismissed the charge that most of the players had been devoting more time to religious activities.

Woh koi baat hi nahin hai... When a Muslim is out of his house, he can say short two-minute prayers... People must find some excuse... People have to make an issue... Surely, the Indians weren’t saying namaaz... Why did they (also) crash out' Yeh koi baat nahin banti... If anything, Allah is only going to answer your prayers...”

Yousuf added: “Fact of the matter is that we didn’t play well... It’s strange that we wouldn’t have got any credit had we beaten Ireland, but got crucified for losing... In sport, there will be winners and losers.”

Clarifying that he never staked a claim for the captaincy after the World Cup, Yousuf endorsed the decision to appoint Malik. “I’m not disappointed... Shoaib brings a lot of energy in the field... He has begun well (in Abu Dhabi last month)...”

Young Malik should feel more assured. Yousuf, after all, has been a stand-in captain.

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