“A generation ahead of his time” and the “greatest cricket brain I ever dealt with” were among tributes to Bob Woolmer today on the tenth anniversary of the death of the former Warwickshire head coach.
When Woolmer died, aged 58, on March 17, 2007, in Jamaica where he was coaching Pakistan in the World Cup, nowhere was the shock and sadness greater than around Edgbaston.
Woolmer played as an all-rounder for Kent and in 18 Tests and six ODIs for England but it was as a groundbreaking coach that he was to enjoy his greatest successes – and most of all at Edgbaston.
As a coach, I took a lot of what I did, in terms of both discipline and technical stuff, from Bob. When he came back to Warwickshire for the second time, I had just got into the England team and, as I got established with England, he was a big part of that.Ashley Giles
Woolmer had two spells as head coach of Warwickshire: 1991-1994 and 2000-2002. During the first he led the team into the most successful era of any county in the history of English cricket, including the unique treble of ’94.
In his second spell, the Bears lifted the last ever Benson & Hedges Cup in 2002. Fittingly, Woolmer’s last match in charge, in September 2002, brought a sensational championship victory as Warwickshire chased down 401 in the fourth innings at Hove to beat Sussex by three wickets and secure second place.
Woolmer’s brilliance shaped an era of Warwickshire cricket and the careers of many who passed under him. They include current Bears sport director Ashley Giles who made his first-class debut during Woolmer’s first spell at Edgbaston.
“As young players coming through in that era we were so lucky to play and learn under Bob,” Giles said. “He was a generation ahead of his time.
“He gave you the freedom and confidence to go out and express yourself on the field but you knew you had to work very hard to earn your place.
“As a coach, I took a lot of what I did, in terms of both discipline and technical stuff, from Bob. When he came back to Warwickshire for the second time, I had just got into the England team and, as I got established with England, he was a big part of that.
“I certainly wouldn’t have had the career I have had without Bob. He was brilliant, as a cricket coach and as a man.”
Woolmer’s name is perpetuated at Edgbaston with an Aylesford hospitality box named in his honour, as there are others in honour of Neal Abberley and players from the treble-winning season.
That amazing treble was Woolmer’s greatest legacy. It was an achievement driven by many fine players but orchestrated by a man whose bold and forward-thinking approach gave those players freedom to fully exploit their talent.
All-rounder Paul Smith, a huge component of the ’94 team, is adamant that the treble simply wouldn’t have happened without Woolmer.
“Bob had the greatest cricket brain I was ever lucky enough to deal with,” Smith said. “That team had some very good players but he was the jewel in the crown.
“He brought so much to the table in his thinking regarding all formats. He was way ahead of his time.
“As batsmen, he just taught us not to fear going in and, if necessary, teeing off from ball one. That’s where Woolly was so good because he got people to stop fearing failure. He told us to just go in there and express ourselves.
“He got us all singing from the same hymn-sheet and that was music to my ears. Bob freed us all up. It was quite revolutionary and the rewards were there to see – and forever will be in the history books.”