The truth about Woolmer may never be out

MURALI KRISHNAN writes from New Delhi: A week after Bob Woolmer, Pakistan’s national coach, was killed in the upscale Jamaica Pegasus Hotel where he and the rest of the Pakistan squad had been staying, investigators are nowhere near knowing who committed the murder, let alone who ordered it.

Perhaps they never will.

Celebrated cricket columnists and would-be investigative reporters have now written tomes since the horrid incident midway through the World Cup about the possible motives of bumping off the ‘Man Who Knew Too Much’.

What was it? A hit job, a team plot, a disgruntled fan seeking revenge, the betting and match-fixing mafia theories have all been explored and dissected but Jamaica’s Deputy Police Commissioner Mark Shields and his able men are still befuddled as is the rest of the cricketing world of the possible reason.

Don’t be surprised. That has been the case in every mucky episode that has hit international cricket in recent years. A flurry of inquiries which then drifts to a disturbing silence.

# How did $11,500 mysteriously appear one fine morning in December 2003 in the hotel room of Sri Lanka’s then captain Marvan Atapattu during a Test match gainst England? What happened to the probe ordered by Sri Lanka’s criminal investigation department and the investigation of the ICC’s Anti-Corruption Security Unit to get to the bottom of this?

# Why was there no further follow-up to Tarannum Khan, the dancing girl of Mumbai’s Deepa Bar, arrested in November 2005 who was alleged to be involved in a huge cricket betting scandal and known for her proximity to key players n the Sri Lankan team and Indian bookies?

Before Hansiegate in 2000, the betting market underworld was notorious, setting up a majority of international matches and their influence was so overpowering that most of the players stayed tight-lipped.

New Zealand cricket captain Stephen Fleming should know. He was offered $370,200 during the 1999 World Cup to join a match-fixing syndicate, which hinted at links to prominent sportsmen.

He details the incident in his book, Balance of Power, saying he was approached in the bar of the team’s hotel in the English city of Leicester during the 1999 World Cup by a man later identified as sports promoter, Aushim Khetrapal, an associate of notorious Indian bookmaker Sanjeev Chawla—the same man who proved to be Hansie Cronje’s nemesis.

The full story of the match-fixing scandal in 2000 that came close to destroying world cricket will never be revealed.

In his seminal article following Cronje’s unexpected death in a plane crash in May 2002, Daniel Murt of London’s Observer noted quoting an investigator close to the case: “A lot of people wanted Cronje dead.”

“They feared that he (Cronje) would one day tell the full truth, and then many more would be implicated. I know people who have looked closely into what happened but who were warned off by threatening phone calls. They’re scared of getting a bullet in the head. I understand that police have found vidence of sabotage, but they’re reluctant to go public on this. The full cost of a follow-up investigation would be too great in a country that is already riven by crime.”

“It suits the police to have a closed case.”

Like Woolmer, Cronje too was also planning to write a “warts and all” book.

Many had expected that cricket had been purged of the taint of match-fixing and betting syndicates after the King‘s Commission in 2000 when cricketing boards around the world got their act together by slapping fines and handing
out life bans to cricketers.

But the untimely death of Woolmer, whom Clive Rice, his closest friend, unequivocally insists had been murdered on the instructions of a betting syndicate, clearly shows that the mafia is still up and kicking.

So, as Scotland Yard trained Shields pores through fingerprints in Woolmer’s room, examines DNA samples of the Pakistani team, scans CCTV footage and inspects card key swipes of those who had access to the twelfth floor on that fateful night as well as scrutinises why bookmakers were offering odds of 8-1 for Ireland to beat Pakistan, the conjectures and speculations swirl.

Perhaps, for the sake of cricket and more importantly for the memory of Woolmer, one of the best-known names in cricket and known for his reputation as a sportsman with a strong set of ethics, this case needs to be busted!