Good old, nice old cricket has changed

The Bob Woolmer mystery. The motive behind his death is difficult to understand.-

Why did anyone find it necessary to kill kind, honest, straightforward Bob Woolmer, depriving his sons Russell and Dale and 1,000 cricketers of his wisdom and his stoical wife Gill of a loving husband, wonders Ted Corbett.

Who dunnit? Who done what? Was it murder, an accident, a heart attack, a seizure? Was it a coincidence that Bob Woolmer's team had lost to Ireland the previous day in the worst World Cup defeat of all time?

As I write it is three weeks since Bob — smiling, hospitable, optimistic, positive Bob — was found dead in his room on the 11th floor of the Pegasus Hotel in Kingston, Jamaica.

For the first four days sentimental cricket paid tribute to a great coach. The local police, lead by tall, handsome and charismatic Mark Shields, seconded by the Metropolitan force in London, quietly got on with what appeared to be a routine follow-up while people like me wrote about the man who not only befriended us but sought us out in preference to cricket folk.

We recalled the cheerful chap who told us tales from the dressing room, trusted us to keep quiet about the naughtiest bits and then took us to dinner and, over half a bottle of wine, let slip even more tales of the elite.

Everybody liked the man, no-one could be found on this planet or the next to say a bad word about Bob Woolmer, not just the greatest coach anyone knew but a man dedicated to cricket.

Then the police let slip the word "suspicious"; and 24 hours later made it certain. They were looking for a murderer. What struck me most forcefully then, and haunts me now, is that not only was I a pal of a man who had been murdered but I could also be a friend of his killer.

Cricket's not like that, we thought. It is full of nice people who love one another and who would never dream of committing a crime.

But, hold on. What about all that match-fixing, all those bribes, those player contacts with bookmakers, all that "say it ain't so, Joe", the need for an Anti Corruption Unit, the security men who have suddenly become as much part of the scene as a physio or mid-on?

What about all those rules and regulations designed to keep spectators under control in Australia this winter.

Good old, nice old cricket has changed. But surely it is not drowning in crime, we thought and then we might have added that cricketers, officials, supernumeraries and, yes, reporters and photographers and writers are human beings, just as likely to fall foul of the law as the man from the area of low cost housing in Manchester or Mumbai, as susceptible to a bribe as, well, a policeman or a prison warder.

Of course it was a high old time for the reporters. By the second week they had their chance to put forward their most exotic efforts.

One British tabloid had reverted to the original theory. It was not murder, just an accident by a man heading for the toilet after drinking heavily, falling and hitting his throat on the side of the washbasin. No, said the police, it is still murder.

Another paper blamed the poison aconite or wolf's bane, which slowed down a man's breathing until his heart stopped. We are looking at that possibility, admitted the police.

The laboratory tests would tell us if it had been in Bob's supper or his drink but sadly the Jamaican testers could not provide an answer at speed.

They were snowed under with work stretching back years. An attempt to send the body home to Cape Town was also foiled. It had been embalmed making a second post mortem impossible.

Clearly justice in Jamaica is slow; so why didn't the government order the laboratory to perform the tests on the food from Bob's stomach and the inspection of his body tissues immediately.

Who knows what drives politicians but I guess that they did not want work on the murder of a foreigner to be put ahead of a local person, even if this sensational murder was doing their tourist trade immeasurable harm.

The investigation still drags on, amid wild stories about the activities of Mark Shields. It appears that he is divorced, that he is 6ft 6in, that he enjoys a day at the races and the company of the most attractive women on the island.

Why, it was implied, was he enjoying himself when he ought to be telling us who killed Woolmer.

Perhaps he had found in his several years on the island that there is something called Jamaican Time, half a beat slower than the clocks in Trafalgar Square.

Those of us who have waited to be served in the dining room of the Kingston Pegasus — the home of cricket when there is a Test match at Sabina Park, the home of the rich and famous every day of the year — know that you can sit for a long time while your meal grows cold on the counter and the waiters finish their conversation.

The place does not understand the quick march. Heaven alone knows how they produced Michael Holding, the fastest bowler of his generation or Merlene Ottey, the great sprinter.

Eventually experts from the British police and a high ranking cop from Pakistan, joined the hunt but still there was no sign of a breakthrough.

We all had plenty of time to develop our own theories about what happened.

My own pet idea is that it was an 18th century murder by a man mimicking the Indian tribe of thugees from which we get the word thug.

Bob was a huge man and although much of his weight was surplus to requirements he was still fit enough and active enough to fight off the average intruder.

But if a man he knew had knocked on his door he would never have thought of turning him away.

I can see him saying "Come in and we'll have a cup of coffee." And turning his back on the guest. Fatally perhaps if the guest had done what the thugs did in the 18th century in northern India and whipped out a scarf and throttled him.

No marks were found on Bob's neck, he did not apparently put up a fight and worst of all evidence was destroyed as the medical teams tried to revive him after he had been found slumped on the floor of the bathroom.

The British wiped out the thugs by the 1830s but although the tribe vanished, their methods continued. Make friends with a traveller, sneak up behind him in the middle of the night, strangle him and run off with his money. The cult had a belief that their foul crimes had a god's approval.

The motive behind Bob's death is difficult to understand. The villain did not remove his cash, his cell phone, his laptop or his writings; his closest associates swear he had no connection with bookmakers for all he coached Pakistan and South Africa, teams mired by corruption.

So we are left with the biggest mystery in sport. Why did anyone find it necessary to kill kind, honest, straightforward Bob Woolmer, depriving his sons Russell and Dale and 1,000 cricketers of his wisdom and his stoical wife Gill of a loving husband?

Perhaps we will never know.