Bob Woolmer used an oxygen mask to sleep: Shaharyar Khan

Pakistan diplomat and former chairman of their cricket board, Shaharyar Khan’s book ‘Cricket Cauldron: The Turbulent Politics of Sport in Pakistan’ promises to create a buzz in the cricketing world. Shaharyar served as chairman of the Board from December 2003 to October 2006 and is credited for infusing stability to a much-maligned establishment. He accompanied the team on its historic tour of India in 1999 when India vs Pakistan Test ties resumed after 10 years. Shaharyar spoke to in the United Kingdom:

Shaharyar  Khan and Bob Woolmer
Shaharyar Khan with former Pakistan coach Bob Woolmer. Pic/MiD DAY Archives

I picked Inzy as captain
Before I came in, there were four or five captains going through a revolving door. We had Rashid Latif, Moin Khan, sometimes somebody else. It went on like that. I felt this was bad for cricket. When I came in, I decided on Inzamam-ul-Haq and I stayed with him right until the end. Inzamam attracted a certain amount of criticism. But I remained consistent and constant with one captain and one set of selectors.

I wouldn’t tolerate fixers
I wouldn’t tolerate I studied Justice Qayyum’s report very carefully. There were eight or nine players who had been mentioned in varying degrees. Of course, Saleem Malik had been completely banned. There were one or two others on whom were strictures. These strictures were that they should not be captain again and so forth. There were other players who were obviously involved in some kind of maligned activity. We had to deal with that also. I made it very clear that I would not tolerate any kind of drug abuse or match-fixing.

How we picked Woolmer
It was not only that we were appointing an outside coach from abroad, but also that we were replacing a national icon in Javed Miandad! There was a lot of criticism after we had appointed Woolmer as coach. We opted for a foreign coach after I was advised by people who I had respected, particularly Rameez Raja. We had a choice of three coaches, Woolmer, Barry Richards of South Africa, and Greg Chappell of Australia.

These three were the likely contenders and we selected Woolmer. Looking back, it was a good choice because Bob did a wonderful job with the team. He was a very good man. He refused to stay in a hotel, which would have been costly, but it was his right.

He stayed in the Academy, in very simple quarters that he had been assigned. He said he wanted to be close to the boys, wanted to be able to have breakfast, lunch, and dinner with them, and to be there for any one of them to come in and see him at any time. He instituted a number of changes. For instance, he told me after the first few weeks, ‘your team is very talented, but they’re not fit. They’re only 20% fit.’ He ensured an 80% fitness level increase in the next six months!

Woolmer was unfit
I knew him to be a very simple guy. I knew him, also, to be unfit. He had a little paunch and used an oxygen mask before he went to sleep. When he died suddenly during the World Cup, it was clear to me that there was no foul play. All the papers went to town. They said that he’s been strangled by one of the team or poisoned by someone who tried to knock him out because of the match-fixing business he had come up against - all that kind of rubbish.

Inzy, the dictator
The relationship really turned sour after what happened at The Oval (in 2006). I saw that player power was taking over. For instance, Bob Woolmer had asked one or two people to come in and coach. So John Snow the veteran England fast bowler and the wicket keeper Allan Knott were asked to come in for a day and help the boys but Inzamam said no! He said he wouldn’t have them.

Inzamam ul Haq
Inzamam ul Haq

He also said there would be no practice on certain days and it was clearly an attempt - well clearly, the power had gone to his head. Inzamam had his team behind him and things began to deteriorate from that point onwards.

It all ended with Oval Gate where the team didn’t obey or follow the directions that I gave, the directions that Bob gave, and a player like Zaheer Abbas gave. They were adamant and said they would not play. It led to a tremendous blot on the cricketing reputation of Pakistan and indeed it was a serious issue and sadly, it was entirely avoidable but I think player power and Inzamam’s petulance was instrumental in this matter.

We didn’t want Hair
We told the ICC before the England tour (of 2006) that you can appoint anyone you like, but we’re not happy with this man (Hair). We are not happy with his attitude and the players are not happy either. Appoint an Indian or another Australian but they wouldn’t listen! Hair was appointed to a Pakistan series four times in five years. The ICC was very insensitive toward our doubts and of course, we were proved right.

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