Spitfire List Web site and blog of anti-fascist researcher and radio personality Dave Emory.

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Murder by Cricket

by Patricky Hru­by
ESPN E‑Ticket

KINGSTON, Jamaica — The body is gone, long since removed, stuffed into a black zip-up bag, chilled to 40 degrees. Life­less and embalmed.

Yet still the detec­tive is tak­ing pic­tures.

Actu­al­ly, he’s not tak­ing pic­tures. He’s telling anoth­er guy to take pic­tures, which makes sense, since the oth­er guy is hold­ing a big black cam­era and the detec­tive is hold­ing a small black note­book. The detec­tive wears dark pants, a dark tie and a white, short-sleeve but­ton-down; he sports a close-cropped, drill sergeant hair­cut and a tat­too on his right fore­arm. He says he’s from Scot­land Yard. Won’t say any­thing else. He stud­ies the room like a cheat sheet, gives orders with an author­i­ta­tive Eng­lish accent — the unmis­tak­able voice of a long-aban­doned empire — mak­ing quick, fas­tid­i­ous notes in his ledger. Shoot over here. Stand under the CCTV cam­eras. Get this angle. Hov­er­ing near­by are five oth­er men, watch­ing intent­ly, all wear­ing tucked-in short-sleeved shirts of their own. I assume they’re detec­tives as well; pis­tol han­dles peek out from their waist­bands, lit­tle periscopes of dead­ly intent, and as far as I know, the hotel isn’t host­ing a hand­gun con­ven­tion.

While all of this is going on — the point­ing and bulb-flash­ing and stone-faced milling about — I’m tak­ing pic­tures of the detec­tives, try­ing to act incon­spic­u­ous, pre­tend­ing I’m gen­uine­ly inter­est­ed in the crick­et para­pher­na­lia dot­ting the room, the bronze stat­ue of West Indies leg­end George Headley and the oil paint­ing of a demon­ic-look­ing Sri Lan­ka bowler and the mul­ti­col­ored nation­al flags of for­mer British colonies hang­ing from the ceil­ing like super­hero capes on a laun­dry line. Only I think the detec­tives see through me because they keep mov­ing out of my dig­i­tal cam­er­a’s frame, sub­tly but unmis­tak­ably, and I real­ize I would make a lousy CIA agent and an even worse paparaz­zo.

Nobody else in the lob­by pays us much mind.

Nobody else pays much mind because the whole irre­deemably post­mod­ern scene — a guy tak­ing pic­tures of a guy tak­ing pic­tures — isn’t unusu­al. Not any­more. Not here at the Jamaica Pega­sus in down­town Kingston, not after every­thing that has hap­pened, not with the sports talk radio hosts broad­cast­ing live from the plush brown leather love seats and the tabloid reporters bivouacked around the pool­side bar and the three uni­formed police offi­cers guard­ing the ele­va­tor exit on the 12th floor, where they’re up and out of their bor­rowed ball­room chairs before the pol­ished met­al doors even fin­ish slid­ing open, ready and eager to detain you for ques­tion­ing, even though you’re just look­ing for the gym. No. The capac­i­ty for shock has long since left the build­ing.

These are the facts: On March 18, Pak­istan crick­et coach Bob Woolmer, a genial Eng­lish­man, was found uncon­scious, like­ly already dead, in this very hotel, behind the cream-col­ored door of Room 374. A cham­ber­maid dis­cov­ered his naked body, slumped on the bath­room floor, between the toi­let and the tub, blood and vom­it spat­tered against the white tile walls. Hands and feet turned blue. Woolmer, 58, was tak­en to a hos­pi­tal and pro­nounced dead of unde­ter­mined caus­es; four days lat­er, police changed the cause of death to asphyx­ia as a result of man­u­al stran­gu­la­tion. Mur­der. Mur­der in the Pega­sus, where the cops held a news con­fer­ence, and anoth­er half-dozen after that, trans­form­ing this oth­er­wise sleepy, mar­ble-tiled wait­ing area into the epi­cen­ter of an inter­na­tion­al newsquake, con­cen­tric rings of breath­less rumor and half-sub­stan­ti­at­ed spec­u­la­tion, all radi­at­ing out from the biggest and most awful sto­ry to hit inter­na­tion­al crick­et since … well, ever.

And yes, just to be clear: We’re talk­ing about crick­et.

Crick­et, the sport of after­noon tea and sliced cucum­bers and pris­tine white out­fits. And now, a bona fide mur­der mys­tery, where inves­ti­ga­tors have no named sus­pects, no clear motive and no cer­tain cause of death. A mur­der mys­tery in which all of the above has cre­at­ed a fac­tu­al and nar­ra­tive vac­u­um, filled by a raft of increas­ing­ly crazy yet strange­ly plau­si­ble the­o­ries, spout­ed and dis­missed and exhumed by fans and reporters and local taxi dri­vers alike, a deranged yet irre­sistible game of Clue. A crazy fan in the bath­room with a tow­el. The Indi­an mafia with exot­ic poi­son. Pak­istani Intel­li­gence in league with al-Qai­da, financed by Chi­nese off­shore accounts.

Who killed Bob Woolmer? Such is the macabre rid­dle hang­ing over the Crick­et World Cup, a 16-nation tour­na­ment tak­ing place through­out the Caribbean that con­cludes Sat­ur­day with the final in Bar­ba­dos. How does a crick­et coach end up dead in the first place? Such was the ques­tion con­sum­ing me. After all, I would­n’t be sur­prised by a box­er dying of a mas­sive brain hem­or­rhage, or a foot­ball play­er break­ing his neck in a vio­lent tack­le, or Stephen Jack­son get­ting shot at a strip club. But death by crick­et? This was new, and ter­ri­ble, and poten­tial­ly very scary, because if crick­et isn’t safe, what is?

Crick­et, spir­i­tu­al cousin to lawn bowl­ing. Gen­til­i­ty with bats. An unhur­ried sport­ing pur­suit in which the escapist plea­sure lasts not 90 min­utes or two halves or four quar­ters, but for days and days of bliss­ful remove called a Test match, which real­ly seems to be a test of one’s socio-eco­nom­ic abil­i­ty to take an extend­ed inter­con­ti­nen­tal vaca­tion. Crick­et, that endur­ing Vic­to­ri­an hand-me-down, res­olute­ly fair and man­nered, of which not­ed crick­et author and West Indi­an nationalist/Marxist his­to­ri­an C.L.R. James once wrote, “The British tra­di­tion soaked deep into me was that when you entered the sport­ing are­na, you left behind you the sor­did com­pro­mis­es of every­day exis­tence.”

Crick­et. A harm­less coun­try game. Only here is Woolmer’s body, stashed in the base­ment of a Kingston funer­al home for weeks, await­ing repa­tri­a­tion to his wife and two sons in South Africa — a process delayed by both a post­poned coro­ner’s inquest and one of the largest and most com­plex inves­ti­ga­tions in the his­to­ry of Jamaican law enforce­ment, an inves­ti­ga­tion wait­ing on the results of tox­i­col­o­gy tests that have yet to be com­plet­ed. Accord­ing to Jamaican author­i­ties, Woolmer may final­ly head home by the end of the week.

But the mys­tery sur­round­ing him isn’t going any­where.

And though four Scot­land Yard detec­tives and an Inter­pol pathol­o­gist and the Pak­istani detec­tive who head­ed up the Daniel Pearl case are now on hand to jump-start a who­dunit unfold­ing at the rate of a melt­ing glac­i­er, only one thing seems clear: If Woolmer had been some­thing oth­er than a crick­et coach — worked as a BASE jumper, per­haps — he prob­a­bly would still be breath­ing.

How could this be? I want­ed to know. I need­ed to know. I had made an entire career out of fol­low­ing games, the bet­ter to avoid real life; now, real life was intrud­ing in the most hor­rif­ic way pos­si­ble, the most unex­pect­ed way pos­si­ble, in the form of very real, sor­did death. One that com­pelled me to catch a flight to Antigua, and then Jamaica, in order to poke my nose into a strange and unfa­mil­iar world.

A world — and a sport — that can kill.

They don’t call them ‘fanat­ics’ for noth­ing
A deranged fan. A deranged fan did it. Dis­traught, incon­solable, enraged that Pak­istan has just crashed out of the tour­na­ment by los­ing to Ire­land — the inter­na­tion­al crick­et equiv­a­lent, I’m told, of the Seat­tle Sea­hawks falling to a slight­ly above-aver­age high school foot­ball team — and in the mood for vengeance.


It would­n’t be hard. Just go to the Pega­sus. Wait for the team bus to return from near­by Sabi­na Park Sta­di­um, where the Irish fans are prob­a­bly still mak­ing mer­ry at the par­ty stand, danc­ing and grin­ning and get­ting sloshed — it is St. Patrick­’s Day, after all — and where a Pak
istan side ranked No. 4 in the world has just laid an egg the size of Hump­ty Dump­ty, los­ing to an Irish side large­ly com­posed of part-time play­ers. Let the dazed Pak­istani pros and their deflat­ed coach slouch into the lob­by, min­gle with fans and offi­cials, soak them­selves in a warm bath of com­mis­er­a­tive nods and get-’em-next-times. Be still. Watch. See Woolmer head upstairs, ear­ly, around 7:30, leav­ing behind the self-described worst day of his coach­ing career, appar­ent­ly mak­ing good on a postgame news con­fer­ence promise to sleep on his future as Pak­istan’s skip­per.

Now stop. Wait. Bide your time. Let it get late, qui­et, calm. Slip into the ele­va­tor, hit the plas­tic but­ton for the 12th floor. Walk down the hall. Knock on Woolmer’s door. Show him a jer­sey, a hat, a pro­gram. Ask for an auto­graph.

Grab his throat.

So goes one of the mur­der sce­nar­ios, one I ini­tial­ly dis­missed as pre­pos­ter­ous, in a bad Wes­ley Snipes/Robert De Niro flick sort of way. But then … well, then I start read­ing the papers.

Date­line, India: Fol­low­ing a loss to Sri Lan­ka, a crick­et fan in Bil­i­har dies of a heart attack.

Date­line, Pak­istan: A senior politi­cian calls for the nation­al crick­et pro­gram to under­go “major surgery.” Sans anes­thet­ic.

Date­line, India: A loss to Bangladesh prompts a 17-year-old fan in the Samas­tipur dis­trict to die of shock, while irate fans attack the home of star Mahen­dra Dhoni.

Sud­den­ly, the Cameron Cra­zies seem like dilet­tantes. Surf­ing the Web, I come across the sto­ry of Mahadeb Swar­nakar, 28, a crick­et fan from Shak­ti­na­gar, a vil­lage 60 kilo­me­ters north of Cal­cut­ta. Swar­nakar want­ed to watch the India-Sri Lan­ki match on a neigh­bor’s col­or tele­vi­sion; his wife want­ed him to watch at home, on a black-and-white set. They fought. He hanged him­self.

His wife tried to do the same, only the rope broke.

Here’s the tru­ly bat­ty part: Nobody I meet finds any of the above dis­turb­ing. Or even par­tic­u­lar­ly note­wor­thy. They don’t even find it iron­ic, nev­er mind that the offi­cial World Cup theme song is titled “The Game of Love and Uni­ty.” Woolmer’s mur­der? Hor­ri­ble, ter­ri­ble, yes yes. A very great tragedy, of course. Absolute­ly not crick­et. But the obses­sive pas­sion that may have led to his mur­der? Crick­et all the way.

In my hotel’s lob­by bar, I share a drink with Ashish Pan­jabi and Devein­der Singh, a pair of mid­dle-aged crick­et fans, mild-man­nered as can be. Until we talk World Cup. Pan­jabi gives me an ear­ful — about spoiled, unin­spired play­ers, mon­ey-grub­bing cor­po­rate spon­sors, cyn­i­cism and cor­rup­tion. He’s simul­ta­ne­ous­ly salient and unhinged; he ought to be drown­ing out the Sri Lankan equiv­a­lent of Woody Paige on a South­east Asian ver­sion of “Around the Horn.” The whole time, he’s only drink­ing water, not buzzed in the slight­est.

Singh sits and smiles, nod­ding intent­ly. I ask Pan­jabi a sim­ple ques­tion: Why would any­one hang them­selves over crick­et?

“Crick­et is a reli­gion,” he says. “You’re born and bred into it. For your whole life.”

I can’t relate. Not in the slight­est. I mean, sure, I love col­lege bas­ket­ball as much as any­one, and prob­a­bly detest Duke more than most. Yet even in my pet­ti­est, most spite­ful moments — read: any time one of those annoy­ing armed-for-life AmEx ads comes on — I’ve nev­er want­ed to lit­er­al­ly whack Coach K, leav­ing him vom­it-drenched and blue on a bath­room floor.

On the oth­er hand, Woolmer’s still dead, and a fan might be to blame. So I go to a game.

New Zealand ver­sus Bangladesh. Sec­ond round. The gleam­ing new Sir Vivian Richards Sta­di­um in Antigua, halfway between the air­port and the cap­i­tal city of St. John’s, beneath a hazy, sun-splashed sky, buf­fet­ed by a steady trop­i­cal breeze. Twen­ty min­utes from any­where, just like every place else on the island.

Women on the grass in tank tops. Shirt­less men in slathered-on sun­screen. Con­ces­sion stands sell­ing vod­ka and cham­pagne. The smell of coconut oil. I see Aussies in Mil­wau­kee Bucks caps — a nod to Andrew Bogut, I sup­pose — and West Indies kids dressed like extras in a rap video. On the north stand con­course, the tour­na­ment mas­cot — some sort of neon-orange fer­ret — pos­es with fans for pic­tures.

I turn my atten­tion to the field, the bet­ter to see what I’ve been miss­ing. Answer: not much. Crick­et is lan­guid. Much like base­ball, but on Quaaludes. Every­thing takes an eter­ni­ty, espe­cial­ly the at-bats, which play out like Paul O’Neill work­ing the count in hel­l’s soft­ball league. I fix­ate on a New Zealand field­er, a guy named Bond. Black shirt, black pants, black hat, black wrap­around shades. He’s dressed to fight high-tech vam­pires. Stand­ing in the equiv­a­lent of deep left field, he’s basi­cal­ly removed from the action; dur­ing the 20 min­utes I watch him, not a sin­gle ball comes his way.

Still, he fid­gets. Swings his arms. Claps his hands. Crouch­es on every bowled ball, star­ing intent­ly at the bat­ter, alert as a fire alarm. Ready to move. And here, I real­ize, is the sport in a nut­shell: a game of per­pet­u­al focus, not wham-bam fire­works, a game akin to a can­dle in an emp­ty wine bot­tle, per­fect­ly attuned to slow-burn obses­sion.

Thwack! Swing­ing from a one-legged crouch, a Bangladeshi bats­man upper­cuts a six, the equiv­a­lent of a home run. The ball arcs over the left-field fence, a crazy quilt of spon­sor signs, land­ing in the par­ty stand area, near the in-sta­di­um swim­ming pool. The crowd erupts — only not for Bangladesh.


Turns out the place is full of India fans from Dubai, Eng­land and New Jer­sey, great big groups of par­ti­sans, clad in the nation­al team’s dis­tinc­tive baby blue jer­seys. They all bought tick­ets months ago, assum­ing India would reach the tour­na­men­t’s sec­ond round; when the squad bombed out — a fail­ure as stun­ning as Pak­istan’s — they decid­ed to come any­way, in part because the $100 game tick­ets are non­re­fund­able, in part because, well, they’re still play­ing crick­et, and crick­et is a hell of a drug.

It’s also a nation­al iden­ti­ty. Under British rule, crick­et was the one are­na where the sub­ju­gat­ed natives could be equal — even ass-kick­ing­ly supe­ri­or — to their impe­r­i­al over­lords; through­out the West Indies, the sport helped inspire nation­al inde­pen­dence move­ments.

Today, crick­et remains intense­ly polit­i­cal. When India and Pak­istan meet, the games recall Clause­witz’s def­i­n­i­tion of pol­i­tics: war by oth­er means. In both nations, gov­ern­ment offi­cials man­age the nation­al team: In India the drop­ping of the last nation­al team cap­tain was debat­ed in Par­lia­ment; in Pak­istan, the entire crick­et appa­ra­tus serves at the plea­sure of chief patron Pres­i­dent Per­vez Mushar­raf. (Not sur­pris­ing­ly, fans hate this. Imag­ine Nan­cy Pelosi stick­ing Jason Kapono on the USA Bas­ket­ball ros­ter, to cur­ry votes with UCLA alum­ni.) A few years ago in Eng­land, con­ser­v­a­tive pol Nor­man Tebit famous­ly sug­gest­ed Asian immi­grants be sub­ject­ed to a loy­al­ty “crick­et test” — as in, do they root for Eng­land and if it not, give ’em the boot.

The game of love and uni­ty, indeed.

Lat­er that evening, I catch an Irish news­cast. The sub­ject is Woolmer. The footage is old, record­ed just hours after Pak­istan’s loss sent pubs across the plan­et into delir­i­um. Only I don’t see any joy. I see the good peo­ple of Pak­istan, born and bred into crick­et, take to the streets, burn­ing effi­gies — a prac­tice usu­al­ly reserved for the Great Yan­kee Satan him­self, George W. Bush — scream­ing and chant­i­ng, Woolmer murd­abad! Woolmer murd­abad!

Death to Bob Woolmer.

A long his­to­ry of cor­rup­tion — and worse
A match fix­er. A match fix­er did it. A book­ie from Dubai. A gang­ster from Karachi. Some­body some­where who lost a bun­dle. Some­body some­where with even more to lose. Emerg­ing from a safe hous
e, armed with ever-shift­ing cell phone num­bers, mate­ri­al­iz­ing from the shad­ows of the vast sub­con­ti­nen­tal sports gam­bling syn­di­cates like a croc­o­dile from a mud­dy swamp. Rep­til­ian. Sin­gle-mind­ed. Because Woolmer, see, he must have known. Known about the pay­offs, the pregame calls to the play­ers, the sub­tle lit­tle fix­es that no one ever sees, the sus­pi­cious move­ments in the Mum­bai bet­ting mar­kets a month before the Ire­land-Pak­istan game. The endem­ic cor­rup­tion that has long bedev­iled the sport. Must have known too much, must have been ready to talk, per­haps in one of his forth­com­ing books, per­haps with a qui­et, behind-the-scenes phone call. And even if he did­n’t know, he could’ve known, and if you step back and do the math, the mere pos­si­bil­i­ty is more than enough.

Enough for Woolmer to be silenced.

Silenced like Hanif “Cad­bury” Kod­vavi, once Pak­istan’s top book­ie, linked to dis­graced crick­et star Sal­im Malik, found dead in Johan­nes­burg in 1999, report­ed­ly shot 67 times — and, for good mea­sure, hacked into pieces. Or silenced like for­mer South African cap­tain Han­sie Cron­je, crick­et’s fall­en angel, the God-fear­ing, born-again Chris­t­ian who took mon­ey from book­mak­ers, con­fessed to a judge, earned a life­time ban, trig­gered an ocean-span­ning slew of scan­dals and inves­ti­ga­tions and died in a mys­te­ri­ous 2002 plane crash.

Cron­je, who once played for Woolmer.

Again, it would­n’t be hard. Sip some tea at the Pega­sus cafe, right next to the hotel lob­by. Nib­ble on a crois­sant. Let Woolmer head upstairs, order room ser­vice, a last meal of lasagna. Let him open his lap­top, e‑mail his wife, Gill, around 3 a.m., vent his depres­sion and dis­be­lief at the Ire­land loss. Let him send a sec­ond mes­sage to Pak­istani crick­et board chair­man Nasim Ashraf, announc­ing his imme­di­ate res­ig­na­tion as coach, his inten­tion to return home to Cape Town, where he plans to open a crick­et acad­e­my.

Make your move. Room 374. Tap the door. Talk your way inside. Grab a tow­el. Wrap it around Woolmer’s throat.

Make sure he nev­er speaks again.

In the shad­ed yel­low seats of Viv Richards Sta­di­um’s north stand, K. Phillip Kut­ty, a friend­ly Indi­an man with soft, round­ed fea­tures, asks me what I know about Woolmer’s mur­der.

I give him an hon­est answer: not bloody much.

“The peo­ple behind it, it’s the mafia,” he says, eye­brows low­er­ing like a garage door. “It’s 100 per­cent a pre-planned mur­der. Any oth­er excuse for it is bulls—-. It’s the mafia, the mil­lions in mon­ey pour­ing in.”

Kut­ty turns his head, points over his right shoul­der. A pudgy man in a tan T‑shirt and a gray base­ball cap, part of Kut­ty’s group, sits one row back and four seats down. He’s wear­ing head­phones, which appear to be plugged into some sort of PDA. He watch­es the game intent­ly, mak­ing care­ful notes on a flip pad.

“That guy,” Kut­ty says, “he’s bet­ting in Eng­land right now.”

Three things to know about crick­et gam­bling: first, it’s huge. Dubai book­mak­ers took in a report­ed $25 mil­lion on a World Cup match between India and Sri Lan­ka, and some experts esti­mate that as much as $1 bil­lion can be bet glob­al­ly on a sin­gle game. Sec­ond, much, if not most, of that wager­ing is ille­gal, because India and Pak­istan for­bid gam­bling for reli­gious and moral rea­sons. So orga­nized crime con­trols all the action, some­times vio­lent­ly so. Third, crick­et pun­ters (the Eng­lish term for bet­tors) can wager on just about any­thing: the win­ning team, run totals, start­ing line­ups, even if the first ball bowled will be wide. Would you put mon­ey on Steve Nash’s first assist com­ing on a two-hand­ed chest pass? No? Then don’t even think about bet­ting on crick­et.

All of this makes the sport patho­log­i­cal­ly vul­ner­a­ble to fix­ing. Get­ting most of the play­ers on a team to throw a game, a la the Black Sox, is hard; get­ting a sin­gle play­er to bowl one ball wide or pass inside line­up infor­ma­tion is fair­ly triv­ial. Between 1999 and 2001, crick­et was rocked by a series of fix­ing scan­dals. By the time the Inter­na­tion­al Crick­et Coun­cil’s new­ly formed anti­cor­rup­tion unit released a com­pre­hen­sive report at the end of 2001 — a 77-page doc­u­ment con­tain­ing alle­ga­tions of kid­nap­ping, mur­der and fix­ing dat­ing back to the 1970s — Pak­istan had banned Malik for life, India had done the same to for­mer team cap­tain Moham­mad Azharud­din and fel­low star Ajay Shar­ma, Cron­je had giv­en South Africa a black eye, and Aus­tralian stars Shane Warne and Mark Waugh were found to have accept­ed mon­ey from an Indi­an book­ie in exchange for inside infor­ma­tion dur­ing a 1994 tour of Sri Lan­ka.

In 2003, for­mer Lon­don police com­mis­sion­er Paul Con­don — author of the ICC report and the first head of the anti-cor­rup­tion unit — declared crick­et to be vir­tu­al­ly free of match fix­ing. Short­ly there­after, Kenyan cap­tain Mau­rice Odumbe was sus­pend­ed five years for tak­ing mon­ey from Indi­an book­ie Jagdish Sod­ha, a man pre­vi­ous­ly accused of try­ing to bribe Eng­lish play­ers to under­per­form.

Unsur­pris­ing­ly, Con­don’s most recent speech on the top­ic struck a dif­fer­ent chord. Speak­ing in the British House of Lords just weeks before Woolmer’s death, Con­don warned against endem­ic fix­ing and cor­rup­tion, links to the mafia and ter­ror­ism, then dubbed the prob­lem a “spread­ing can­cer.”

Had the can­cer metas­ta­sized? James Fitzger­ald, an ICC spokesman and for­mer Irish crick­et jour­nal­ist, agreed to speak on the con­di­tion we not dis­cuss the Woolmer inves­ti­ga­tion. Fitzger­ald was sur­pris­ing­ly can­did, in a way that only some­one who won’t dis­cuss specifics can be. The vast sums bet on crick­et? Poten­tial­ly prob­lem­at­ic, no ques­tion. But also a sign of the sport’s rel­a­tive health. “It indi­cates inter­est,” he said. “It indi­cates that a large per­cent­age of peo­ple have faith in crick­et.”

Fitzger­ald has a point: There’s a lot of fis­cal faith in crick­et these days, and not just on the part of pun­ters. Thanks to a for­tu­itous con­flu­ence of fan pas­sion, tele­vi­sion and the boom­ing economies of South­east Asia, crick­et is enjoy­ing a finan­cial Big Bang. To wit: Sky Sports and ESPN recent­ly part­nered to pay a report­ed $1.1 bil­lion for ICC broad­cast rights for the next eight years, and an ICC that report­ed­ly had a $150,000 deficit in 1992 is expect­ed to earn a $239 mil­lion prof­it on the cur­rent World Cup.

The sport’s nou­veau riche real­i­ty is vis­i­ble on the spon­sor signs ring­ing the Viv Richards Sta­di­um out­field: Visa, LG, John­nie Walk­er. It’s evi­dent at the tick­et and con­ces­sion stands, where a shad­ed seat goes for $100 and a bot­tle of Gatorade costs $8. It even pops up along the nar­row, wind­ing island road that leads from down­town St. John’s to the sta­di­um, where Pep­si bill­boards pro­claim­ing We Love West Indies Crick­et — only fea­tur­ing India star Sachin Ten­dulkar — share space with hand­made signs pro­mot­ing a local “Gals Garn Wild” show tak­ing place right … after … the game!

Maybe this is the way of mod­ern sports: Stoke fan pas­sion and dis­pos­able income like par­ti­cles in a nuclear reac­tor, gen­er­at­ing a chain reac­tion of light, heat and rev­enue. All the while, hope the whole thing does­n’t go Three Mile Island.

Andrew Miller, who writes for the Web site Cricin­fo, tells me about Cron­je, and how Woolmer — then South Africa’s coach — defend­ed his cap­tain to the last. Even though Cron­je planned his fix­es in the team dress­ing room, right in front of the teenage atten­dants, and lat­er said it was all so easy it bored him.

“We all have a gut feel­ing fix­ing goes on,” Miller says. “Try­ing to stamp it out is like try­ing to stamp out breath­ing. Think about it: you’re only a sports­man for 10 years. You come from a poor coun­try, a poor fam­i­ly, from a place not root­ed in the tra­di­tions of crick­et. I can almost under­stand.”

Pak­istan cap­tain Inza­mam-ul-Haq and assis­tant coach Mush­taq Ahmed were both fined as a result of the same match-fix­ing inves­ti­ga­tion that brought down Malik. West Indies star Mar­lon Samuels was allowed to play in the World Cup despite links to an Indi­an book­mak­er. Woolmer’s friends and
fam­i­ly insist that he knew noth­ing, that his forth­com­ing books — one a coach­ing man­u­al, the oth­er auto­bi­o­graph­i­cal — con­tain no bomb­shells. Could he real­ly have been naive? About Cron­je and all the rest? Miller fid­gets in his seat.

“Not to speak ill of the dead — I knew Bob and he was a very nice man — but he must have known more,” he says. “At least more than he let on.”

A very trust­ing man
Unless he did­n’t. Unless his love of crick­et left him blind to the sport’s larg­er sins. True sto­ry: When the Eng­lish nation­al team toured Pak­istan in 2005, Woolmer noticed that a play­er he once coached in Eng­lish domes­tic crick­et, Ian Bell, had a small flaw in his bat­ting grip. Bell was­n’t expect­ed to play against Woolmer’s Pak­istan squad, so the coach told his for­mer pupil about the prob­lem.

Injuries sub­se­quent­ly forced Bell into the Eng­lish line­up. He fin­ished as the team’s lead­ing scor­er.

“That’s the kind of man Bob was,” says Vic Marks, a for­mer Eng­lish nation­al team play­er and a crick­et writer with the British news­pa­per the Observ­er. “A very trust­ing man. In South Africa, he was in the same lock­er room as Cron­je, and he was as stunned by every­thing as every­one else. That leads you to think there was a naivety there. Oth­er­wise, you start to get con­spir­a­to­r­i­al.”

Marks played against Woolmer in Eng­lish crick­et; as a jour­nal­ist, he came to know the man behind the com­peti­tor. Dur­ing Pak­istan’s tour of Eng­land last sum­mer, he met Woolmer in Can­ter­bury for a short chat, that mush­roomed into a 2‑hour dis­cus­sion of crick­et and life.

“He was so good at the inti­mate details of the game,” Marks says. “Maybe he did­n’t always see the big­ger pic­ture.”

Born in India to Eng­lish par­ents — his father put a bat and ball in his crib — Woolmer learned the game play­ing for Kent, in a rhodo­den­dron-strewn set­ting Marks likens to the Gar­den of Eden. Woolmer’s men­tor was Col­in Cow­drey, a for­mer ICC pres­i­dent and Eng­land cap­tain, wide­ly con­sid­ered one of the game’s great sports­men. By 1976, Woolmer had estab­lished him­self as a tal­ent­ed, well-liked, almost arche­typ­al Eng­lish play­er, a Crick­eter of the Year and lead­ing can­di­date for a future nation­al team cap­tain­cy.

That nev­er hap­pened. In 1977, Woolmer became the youngest of six Eng­lish play­ers to join World Series Crick­et, a rival to tra­di­tion­al inter­na­tion­al Test match­es, spon­sored by an Aus­tralian tycoon dur­ing a fight over tele­vi­sion rights. The seem­ing cash grab — very not crick­et — made Woolmer a near-pari­ah. He fur­ther sul­lied his pro­fes­sion­al rep­u­ta­tion four years lat­er, play­ing in a con­tro­ver­sial apartheid-era tour of South Africa, which was under sanc­tions. Woolmer insist­ed before an Eng­lish crick­et board that he was doing it to pro­mote inter­ra­cial har­mo­ny. He nev­er played for Eng­land again. In 1984, he retired from the sport with a back injury, then immi­grat­ed to South Africa to coach high school­ers in Cape Town’s poor, black town­ships.

Woolmer returned to Eng­land three years lat­er, coach­ing at Kent and then at War­wick­shire, where he pio­neered the use of a sel­dom-used reverse sweep shot that has since become a crick­et sta­ple. Sub­se­quent­ly appoint­ed coach of the South African nation­al team, Woolmer intro­duced lap­top com­put­ers and detailed sta­tis­ti­cal analy­sis to the sport — think “Mon­ey­ball” — and dur­ing the 1999 World Cup out­fit­ted Cron­je with a radio ear­piece, a prac­tice that has since been banned.

Woolmer was suc­cess­ful in both places — South Africa fell just short of the ’99 World Cup final — but also presided over con­tro­ver­sy: Rumors of wide­spread recre­ation­al drug use dogged the War­wick­shire lock­er room, and the Cron­je affair was a huge blow to inter­na­tion­al crick­et. His tenure in Pak­istan, where he lived alone in a small Lahore apart­ment, was marked by more of the same: Woolmer pushed the nation’s crick­et board to begin drug-test­ing, a move that result­ed in two of his best bowlers being banned for steroid use; over Woolmer’s objec­tion, the team refused to take the field after being accused of ball-tam­per­ing dur­ing a game against Eng­land last year, earn­ing an unprece­dent­ed inter­na­tion­al for­feit (Pak­istan was lat­er cleared of the charge); uncon­firmed reports sug­gest Woolmer had a hard time relat­ing to a reli­gious fac­tion with­in the squad, led by Inza­mam, that prac­ticed a con­ser­v­a­tive form of Islam.

A trust­ing man. With a tal­ent for piss­ing peo­ple off.

“To take on Pak­istan is a real chal­lenge as a coach,” Marks says. “You have lots of tal­ent, but it is all enmeshed in pol­i­tics. And on a per­son­al lev­el, it was a huge sac­ri­fice. But again, Bob showed his uncon­ven­tion­al streak.”

Marks can’t shake the feel­ing that Woolmer’s death is some­how entwined with the sport he loved, a sport gone qui­et­ly mad, in which one of Woolmer’s favorite phras­es on the golf course — the bal­l’s in the lake; nobody died — no longer applies.

“It’s such a hor­rid thing,” Marks says with a sigh. “And to seem that it hap­pened as the result of crick­et, as opposed to a per­son­al issue — that’s remark­ably alarm­ing, isn’t it? It caus­es you to ques­tion your own game. It’s not so daft to say that if Pak­istan had beat­en Ire­land, he would still be alive.”

Not so daft. I write this down.

No pos­si­bil­i­ties ruled out
There’s anoth­er pos­si­bil­i­ty: Woolmer was­n’t mur­dered. His death was sim­ply a trag­ic acci­dent. Police say his body showed no obvi­ous out­ward signs of vio­lence, no tell­tale red bruis­es on his neck. His room showed “very lit­tle” of the same. No signs of forced entry. His pass­port and cred­it cards were found in a draw­er. The lap­top he for­lorn­ly packed into a bag at the end of the Ire­land game was­n’t tak­en. Pak­istani play­er Dan­ish Kane­r­ia was stay­ing in an adja­cent room. West Indies cap­tain Bri­an Lara was sleep­ing across the hall. Both men say they heard noth­ing — no shout­ing, no scream­ing, no wheez­ing.

Not a sound.

Woolmer suf­fered from Type 2 dia­betes, was under tremen­dous stress. Uncon­firmed reports claim that he had been drink­ing cotch, that an emp­ty bot­tle was found in his room. Per­haps he had a seizure, a black­out, lost his foot­ing, fell into the sink or bath­tub and fatal­ly injured his neck. Per­haps Woolmer per­ished after the cham­ber­maid dis­cov­ered him, when his body was moved and a house doc­tor and nurse attempt­ed to resus­ci­tate him, when at least six Pak­istani play­ers report­ed­ly entered his room, all before he was placed in a diplo­mat­ic car and tak­en to the hos­pi­tal where doc­tors pro­nounced him dead. Per­haps the autop­sy, ini­tial­ly incon­clu­sive, was botched. Garfield Blake, pres­i­dent of the Jamaican Asso­ci­a­tion of Clin­i­cal Pathol­o­gists, says that to go from incon­clu­sive to stran­gu­la­tion is odd, that the two diag­noses are “poles apart.”

Or maybe this is all fool­ish tail-chas­ing. Maybe Woolmer real­ly was mur­dered, only he was­n’t just stran­gled. Maybe he was poi­soned first. That’s the rumor the day before I arrive in Kingston, with a British tabloid claim­ing police received an anony­mous phone tip that Woolmer was mur­dered with aconite, a nasty lit­tle sub­stance that caus­es nau­sea, vom­it­ing, diar­rhea, loss of pow­er in the limbs, a slow shut­down of one’s inter­nal organs and, final­ly, death by asphyx­i­a­tion. Inves­ti­ga­tors refuse spe­cif­ic com­ment. But they acknowl­edge that they’ve received infor­ma­tion about pos­si­ble poi­sons.

“I’m sure they have,” a British reporter says, voice drip­ping with sar­cas­tic con­tempt. “And the call prob­a­bly came from the reporter who wrote the sto­ry.”

In two weeks, British papers will report that Woolmer was pos­si­bly mur­dered with snake ven­om, and that police have iden­ti­fied an unnamed sus­pect from hotel cam­era secu­ri­ty footage. The cops nei­ther con­firm nor deny both sto­ries. But for now, there’s only one way to clear every­thing up: Talk to Deputy Com­mis­sion­er Mark Shields, the 48-year-old for­mer Scot­land Yard cop head­ing up the inves­ti­ga­tion. Only Shields isn’t talk­ing. Not
any­more. Turns out I’m late to the par­ty. One week ear­li­er, before I arrived, Shields gave news brief­in­gs in the Pega­sus lob­by, for­mal and infor­mal, some­times more than once a day. He con­firmed that Woolmer’s body showed no vis­i­ble signs of life when it was found. That the lack of marks on his neck was “not unusu­al,” giv­en the “cir­cum­stances sur­round­ing” Woolmer’s death. (Prompt­ing spec­u­la­tion that Woolmer was stran­gled with tow­els, which report­ed­ly were found near his body). Shields said that while police believe Woolmer may have known his killer — he was found naked, after all — no motives or sce­nar­ios have been ruled out entire­ly, not even a ran­dom stranger com­ing in off the street to kill Woolmer on a homi­ci­dal whim.

Shields also con­firmed that police are dig­i­tiz­ing and ana­lyz­ing almost a day’s worth of hotel secu­ri­ty cam­era footage, that detec­tives had looked to ques­tion three Pak­istani fans linked to the team — two from the Unit­ed States — in order to clear them from the inves­ti­ga­tion, that state­ments, fin­ger­prints and DNA sam­ples were tak­en from every mem­ber of the Pak­istani squad, that three mem­bers of the team had been ques­tioned a sec­ond time before being allowed to leave Jamaica, and that two Pak­istani diplo­mats from Wash­ing­ton, D.C., had been giv­en a tour of the crime scene.

And now? Not a word. Shields’ lips are sealed. He’s ticked off at the media, and with good rea­son: While I was in Antigua, the Sun­day Mail ran a piece dub­bing Shields a “sexy man in a sexy job” and detail­ing his rather active social life, which appar­ent­ly includes a 24-year-old fash­ion design­er girl­friend and invi­ta­tions to all the best cock­tail par­ties. The evening after Woolmer died, the sto­ry said, Shields was spot­ted at a soc­cer match. In a fol­low-up report, the paper claimed that Shields planned to take an East­er vaca­tion to Lon­don to vis­it his two sons, a trip Shields sub­se­quent­ly can­celed.

“He was­n’t too hap­py with that,” says anoth­er Eng­lish reporter.

The assem­bled Eng­lish press isn’t too hap­py with the Mail, either: The paper uri­nat­ed in the pool for every­one else. Is Shields, tall and hand­some, less a dogged Jim Rock­ford than a male Char­lie’s Angel? I can’t say; I nev­er man­aged to con­tact him. But I do find it slight­ly dis­con­cert­ing that he has a Yahoo! e‑mail address on his busi­ness card. And I’m told the locals have a nick­name for him: Dis­co Cop.

My first morn­ing in Kingston, I eat break­fast with a local reporter. He describes the polit­i­cal pres­sure on the Woolmer inves­ti­ga­tion as intense, almost dis­rup­tive: Gov­ern­ments around the Caribbean have large­ly staked their con­tin­u­ing via­bil­i­ty on a suc­cess­ful World Cup; cost over­runs, unex­pect­ed­ly low turnout and Woolmer’s death have giv­en oppo­si­tion par­ties plen­ty of cam­paign ammu­ni­tion. And locals hate noth­ing more than “mur­der in par­adise” sto­ries.

Then there’s the media mini-inva­sion, Oma­ha Beach with expense reports, by turns irri­tat­ing and com­i­cal. One British paper sent four dif­fer­ent writ­ers — four! — all look­ing to scoop their rivals. And, of course, each oth­er.

“Watch­ing them try to avoid each oth­er all week was ridicu­lous,” the reporter says between gulps of fruit juice. “They can’t get scoops because there’s noth­ing to scoop. So they’ve all been here with noth­ing to do. It’s like going to church and not putting mon­ey in the tin for these guys.”

Chuck­ling, he asks whether I’ve seen today’s edi­tion of The Sun, prob­a­bly the most shame­less Fleet Street tab. I shake my head.

“They’ve got pic­tures of Woolmer’s room.”

We’re sit­ting next to a win­dow in the Kingston Hilton, just down the street from the Pega­sus. Through the glass, you can see the build­ing’s 12th floor; I won­der aloud whether a pho­tog­ra­ph­er rap­pelled down the side. The reporter laughs, but I lat­er dis­cov­er I’m half-cor­rect: The Sun pho­togs rent­ed a room a few floors above Woolmer’s, then used a rope to low­er a cam­era rigged with a 10-sec­ond timer.

“It’s ter­ri­ble, isn’t it?” mar­vels Bar­ry Wig­more, a Flori­da-based reporter with the Dai­ly Mail. “But in a way, you have to admire them.”

Bar­ry is right: It is ter­ri­ble, and you do have to admire them. Because here, writ small, is the full and total awful­ness of human inge­nu­ity, the same twist­ed imag­i­na­tive pow­er that allows dis­co cops to solve mur­ders from the scant­i­est of clues while let­ting the rest of us play along in the media and at home, one “CSI”-shaming the­o­ry at a time. I think back to an Indi­an crick­et fan I met in Antigua, a doc­tor who once lived in Col­orado.

“It’s the Jon­Benet Ram­sey case of the Caribbean,” he told me. “A lot of fin­ger point­ing. But you’ll nev­er know.”

Which, in turn, means one thing: some­body some­where is already writ­ing a book about this. And prob­a­bly shop­ping the TV movie rights.

He lived — and died — for crick­et
They hold a memo­r­i­al ser­vice. Actu­al­ly, they hold two memo­r­i­al ser­vices. Nei­ther one with Woolmer’s body.

The first takes place in a Pak­istani cathe­dral, led by an arch­bish­op, two weeks after Woolmer’s death. Play­ers and crick­et offi­cials fill the pews. I watch the footage on BBC News: a framed pic­ture of the for­mer coach, smil­ing, clad in a white team polo shirt, flanked by burn­ing can­dles. Tears. A moment of silence. The lay­ing of wreaths, one on behalf of Pres­i­dent Mushar­raf. Every­thing solemn and dig­ni­fied. Heart­felt. Noth­ing like a few days ear­li­er, when Pak­istani play­ers return­ing from Jamaica are greet­ed at Karachi air­port by jeer­ing fans, some scream­ing, “Go to hell!”

A sec­ond ser­vice. This time in South Africa, attend­ed by Woolmer’s friends and fam­i­ly, teary-eyed and still in shock. But also proud. They remem­ber a gen­er­ous man, a gen­tle soul, a hero who helped the nation­al team emerge from the shame and poi­son of apartheid, from two decades of inter­na­tion­al sanc­tions, who coached mixed-race boys’ teams before almost any­one else would. A man who shook hands with the Queen of Eng­land but also worked with chil­dren in Cape Town’s most down­trod­den town­ships. Allan Don­ald, a for­mer South Africa play­er and close friend, reads a state­ment on behalf of Woolmer’s wid­ow Gill and sons Dale and Rus­sell, thank­ing an entire world of well-wish­ers for their con­do­lences. Anoth­er friend won­ders if crick­et has now lost its moral com­pass. Nasim Ashraf, the chair­man of the Pak­istan Crick­et Board, announces that an indoor crick­et cen­ter in Lahore will be named after the coach.

Woolmer, he says, lived crick­et. Loved crick­et. Died for crick­et.

I write this down, too.

A mind-numb­ing con­spir­a­cy the­o­ry
Who killed Bob Woolmer? Here’s the only con­clu­sion I can draw with any degree of cer­tain­ty: Hang around crick­et long enough — like, say, a week — and you’ll end up through the look­ing glass. Way through the look­ing glass. Oliv­er Stone-on-the-Kennedy-assas­si­na­tion ter­ri­to­ry.

I talk to a Guy. A Guy who knows stuff. A Guy in the infor­ma­tion acqui­si­tion busi­ness. I can’t tell you more. Sor­ry. We meet in the lob­by of the Pega­sus, at night. I sug­gest we get a drink. He walks me past the hotel gym, past the pool­side bar, past the chat­ty bar­keeps and the tabloid writ­ers down­ing Red Stripes. We sit at the far end of the pool, on white plas­tic chairs, in near dark­ness.

This is what he tells me:

He says Jamaica’s rul­ing polit­i­cal par­ty is gun­ning for an unprece­dent­ed fifth con­sec­u­tive term, that the cur­rent prime min­is­ter is wide­ly liked but con­sid­ered a bit dumb, the cur­rent gov­ern­ment is count­ing on the World Cup to help it win the upcom­ing elec­tions, a sound strat­e­gy in a sports-mad nation where high school track meets are shown on prime-time tele­vi­sion.

He says Woolmer’s mur­der has shot this all to hell, though, and that the fail­ure to catch his killer, or killers, has added to a grow­ing, wide­spread dis­con­tent with the tour­na­ment and the peo­ple in charge.

He says Woolmer was def­i­nite­ly mur­dered.
Of this, he has no doubt.

He says he saw a pic­ture of Woolmer’s body, there was a mark on Woolmer’s neck, on the right side, just below the jaw line, that sug­gests phys­i­cal trau­ma.

He says he’s spo­ken to some­one in inter­na­tion­al intel­li­gence, some­one well-placed, and that ever since the Unit­ed States cut off much of al-Qaida’s fund­ing after the Sept. 11 attacks, the ter­ror­ist group has used ille­gal sports gam­bling in India and Pak­istan as a major source of rev­enue.

He says al-Qai­da has ties to Dawood Ibrahim, the Al Capone of India, a man accused of mas­ter­mind­ing a 1993 bomb­ing that killed 257 peo­ple in Mum­bai, a man with ties to the book­mak­er alleged­ly linked to Samuels, a man rumored to have lost mil­lions on the Ire­land-Pak­istan match.

He says al-Qai­da also has ties to Pak­istan’s Inter-Ser­vices Intel­li­gence agency, the for­mer — and some say cur­rent — patron of Afghanistan’s Tal­iban.

He says the ISI is inter­twined in both the Pak­istani gov­ern­ment and Pak­istani crick­et, and that one of the mem­bers of the Pak­istani crick­et team’s trav­el­ing par­ty is actu­al­ly an ISI oper­a­tive.

He says that al-Qai­da may have put a lot of mon­ey on the Pak­istani team, and may have been dis­ap­point­ed in its poor per­for­mance. Mur­der­ous­ly so.

He says that Woolmer may have found him­self between a rock and a hard place, because despite what his friends and fam­i­ly have said, the coach knew about larg­er-scale cor­rup­tion and was going to blow the whis­tle.

He says Woolmer found out that three inter­na­tion­al umpires were being paid off, and that the ISI had set up off­shore bank­ing accounts for them.

He says the bank accounts were financed with Chi­nese mon­ey. I ask why. He does­n’t elab­o­rate.

He says he believes the ISI is involved in Woolmer’s mur­der. He says some­one in the Pak­istan team par­ty knows what hap­pened, and dur­ing Pak­istan’s final World Cup game — against Zim­bab­we, after Woolmer’s death — a mem­ber of the team par­ty was spot­ted with his feet up, drink­ing cham­pagne, and the cham­pagne-sip­per in ques­tion is prob­a­bly ISI. He says all of the above is why Pak­istan dis­patched two diplo­mats to Jamaica.

While mouthing the word “diplo­mats,” he makes air quotes with his hands.

He says the Jamaican police have no sus­pects and no motive, and yet a coro­ner’s inquest has been sched­uled. He says this is a way to drag things out.

He says he does not believe the Jamaican police will solve the case.

He says after Woolmer, the real vic­tim in the case is Jamaica, because this is the World Cup, not a shoot­ing in down­town Kingston, and that the coun­try led news­casts around the plan­et for two days.

He says the best thing for Jamaicans is for Woolmer’s body to leave the coun­try.

He says all this, a jig­saw puz­zle with­out a box, and then he says he has to leave. I close my note­book. My fin­gers hurt. We shake hands. He heads inside. I turn around, take a last look at the pool, the bar, the half-emp­ty bot­tles of beer. I want to ask him whether any of this head-spin­ning mad­ness can pos­si­bly be true, whether he grasps the impli­ca­tions of every­thing said and unsaid, the big­ger pic­ture beyond the bound­aries of this strange and unfa­mil­iar sport: Crick­et is daft because the world is daft, and the tru­ly daft thing about it is that it takes a dead man to notice.

But he’s already gone.

Who killed Bob Woolmer?
The detec­tive is gone. The lob­by is qui­et. No police, no pho­tog­ra­phers. A few peo­ple are watch­ing an Eng­land-Sri Lan­ka game, shown on four tele­vi­sions scat­tered around the room. The Brits are total­ly out of it. I’m sit­ting on a plush, cream-col­ored reclin­er, typ­ing notes into my lap­top; across from me sits a man with tree-trunk fore­arms, arms crossed, fac­ing a tele­vi­sion, snor­ing light­ly.

I put on some head­phones, zone out. When I open my eyes, I notice that the room is fill­ing up. A group of young Jamaican guys — none old­er than 25, tops — plops down on the couch next to me. They’re watch­ing the game. So are two British writ­ers, who have moved clos­er to the big-screen TV at the cen­ter of the lob­by.

Eng­land, it seems, is mak­ing a come­back.

I don’t com­plete­ly under­stand how crick­et works. Does­n’t mat­ter. I take off my head­phones. Eng­land needs 12 runs to win. They have six balls left. The game is being played in Antigua. On the tele­vi­sion screen, I see British fans jump­ing up and down in the sta­di­um pool; in the stands, Sri Lankan fans are lean­ing for­ward in their seats, chins on palms, wide-eyed and ner­vous. An Eng­land bat­ter strokes a hit. The Jamaican guys are clap­ping, whoop­ing it up. Big shot! Big shot! Per­verse­ly enough, they’re root­ing for Sri Lan­ka. The British jour­nal­ists are clap­ping, too.

Thwack! The run chase is on. Sev­en runs need­ed from four balls. Thwack! Five from three. Four from two. One of the British writ­ers stands up, places his hands atop his head. It’s too much to bear. Mr. Tree-trunk Fore­arms is wide awake, sit­ting up straight as a flag­pole. The lob­by is full.

Last ball. This is it. The Sri Lankan bowler races toward the wick­et, lets the ball go. One hop. The bat­ter swings and miss­es com­plete­ly, the ball shat­ter­ing the lit­tle white thingamjig rest­ing atop the three wood­en stumps behind him. It’s the equiv­a­lent of a strike­out. Game over. The Jamaican guys erupt in cheers. The British jour­nal­ists look heart­sick. On the screen, one of the par­ty pool kids buries his face in his hands, sob­bing. A beau­ti­ful young Sri Lankan girl shakes her hips, danc­ing around her seat, wav­ing a nation­al flag like a ship­wrecked sailor swing­ing an orange-smoke res­cue flare.

Who killed Bob Woolmer? The truth is that no one real­ly knows, and maybe no one will ever know, and the only peo­ple who might know aren’t say­ing. Yet take a pic­ture: Right here, right now, none of that mat­ters. For a moment, what mat­ters is the moment, the joy in the lob­by and despair in the sta­di­um pool, the fleet­ing sense of com­plete and total remove — from tox­i­col­o­gy reports and match fix­ing, coro­ner’s inquests and poten­tial­ly dead­ly tow­els, from the sins of crick­et and life itself, the hor­ror of Room 374 and the dark secrets lurk­ing with­in. All of it a wak­ing night­mare, half-for­got­ten but lin­ger­ing, a crime scene pho­to­graph stuffed into the junk draw­er of our col­lec­tive dread, yel­low­ing and sin­is­ter. The blood and the vom­it. The last, silent gasps of a man left to die on the altar of a coun­try game. The sor­did com­pro­mis­es of every­day exis­tence we call sport.


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