Sunday, March 20, 2011

Harry Ricketts’s cricket poem for Bob Woolmer

Recently Harry Ricketts, the New Zealand poet, biographer, writer, editor and cricketer, sent me a poem to look at. The poem remembers his old First XI school mate and lover of cricket Bob Woolmer, the former South Africa and Pakistan coach and England all-rounder. Harry hadn’t intended the tribute to appear on the blog, but seeing as the 18th of March during this year’s World Cup marks the fourth anniversary since Bob Woolmer’s death, I thought it’d be a nice gesture to post Harry’s poem to share with others.
There is another New Zealand connection with Bob Woolmer worth mentioning. In Shane Bond’s recently released autobiography, he discusses the 2007 World Cup in the West Indies and the death of Bob Woolmer, his former county cricket coach at Warwickshire. In 2002, Bond replaced Shaun Pollock briefly during the county cricket season and was under the tutelage of Woolmer:

The biggest personality at the club…was Woolmer. His whole life had, one way or another, been tied up with cricket…his big goal was to set up an international cricket academy. He would tell me about the vision he had, how it would cost a lot of money, but it was his dream to create the greatest cricket facility the world has ever seen. He felt that he had enough knowledge to create the perfect set-up for guys to come from around the world and learn how to play the game from back to front.
His death at the 2007 World Cup was no surprise that he died doing what he loved, coaching. But his sudden loss was felt deeply by those of us who had enjoyed the pleasure of working with him. I’d seen him at the World Cup and stopped for a quick chat. He was always good for a natter – just a personable, relaxed guy, a deep thinker about the game.
                                                             (Shane Bond: Looking Back, p. 167)

The death of Woolmer was certainly the low point of the 2007 World Cup. I was in a bar in Wellington when I heard the news. Talk broke out in the bar about possible corruption and scandal behind Bob’s mysterious death. Could Bob have been murdered? Negative talk continued for days after, people suspecting the worst. Luckily, for cricket, the overseas pathologist’s reports indicated natural causes behind Woolmer’s death and conspiracy theories died away. However, a later Jamaican inquest jury gave an open verdict, so we may never know the full story. It is by all accounts a sad end to Woolmer who devoted his life to cricket. He was 58 when he died. I offer my heartfelt sympathy to Bob’s family and friends. An article by Ivo Tennant marking the four-year anniversary appeared in Cricinfo magazine. I understand that a trust set up in his memory will establish Woolmer’s cricket academy in South Africa.
Here’s Harry’s poem for Bob:

HARRY RICKETTS

Cricket coach Bob Woolmer, who died mysteriously in a Jamaica hotel room, coached which national side?

Here you are in today’s
five-minute quiz. Pakistan’s
the answer, but what about

South Africa? Which would
also be correct, wouldn’t it,
in the scorebook, plus at least

one other mysterious
death? Well, no more declarations,
no more referrals now.

Who’d have imagined all that
in summer 1961?
Captain of our First XI,

you weren’t popular, not
one of the lads like Danby
or Ussher, but you were kind to me.

At wogger on the playground,
we could never get you out
however fast we bowled.

You never gave a catch (one hand,
two bounces), never hit
our tennis balls over

the gym roof, never seemed
to get bored. Every innings
you were batting for your life.

Poem © Harry Ricketts 2011

Thanks Harry

(Sources: Email from Harry Ricketts; Cricinfo and Shane Bond: Looking Back with Dylan Cleaver (Hodder Moa, Auckland, 2010)

Article © Mark Pirie 2011

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