Dangerous Games

5 minute read
Simon Robinson

Police believe that Woolmer knew his killer or killers. There was no sign of forced entry to his room, and it’s unlikely that those responsible for his death took the time to disrobe the 1.85-m, 113-kg man before fleeing. Woolmer had apparently been comfortable enough to let his visitors into his room while he was unclothed, or perhaps wearing a towel before or after a shower. “I believe that it would be extremely difficult for a complete stranger to go into the hotel lobby, get into the lift, go to his room, and that he would open his room to a complete stranger and then be strangled and left naked,” says Shields, a former Scotland Yard detective who joined the Jamaican police two years ago to stem a crime wave sweeping the island nation. “I think that is unlikely.”

But why would anyone who knew Woolmer want to kill him? One theory is that someone from the South Asian underworld ordered him dead because he was about to blow the lid on match fixing, the game’s nagging cancer. Pakistan has certainly been linked to match-fixing scandals in the past. In 1994, then Pakistan captain Salim Malik was publicly accused by three Australian players of offering them money to lose a match. Malik denied the allegation and was initially cleared of any wrongdoing. But in 2000, police in the Indian capital New Delhi intercepted a telephone conversation between an illegal bookmaker and South African captain Hansie Cronje in which the two discussed how much Cronje would make if he threw a match. Cronje subsequently admitted to a long series of transgressions and fingered two Indian players, Mohammad Azharuddin and Ajay Sharma, as well as Malik. Following a series of investigations, all four were banned for life by their respective cricket boards.

The Cronje scandal prompted the International Cricket Council to set up an Anti-Corruption and Security Unit to go after illegal bookmakers. But rumors of match fixing linger. Former Pakistani fast bowler Sarfraz Nawaz believes that South Asia’s bookmaking Mafia still manipulates results and that a bookie is probably behind Woolmer’s murder. “Where there is gambling, there is money,” he says, “and where there is money, there is murder.” Using cell-phone numbers that they discard daily, and a series of codes when speaking to avoid police detection, bookies in Mumbai (formerly Bombay), Karachi and across the Arabian Sea in Dubai pull in hundreds of millions of dollars on scheduled series of big matches, and might have been keen to shut Woolmer up if he threatened their gold mine.

Officials from cricket’s anti-corruption unit are working with Jamaican police to investigate whether match fixing may have played a role in Woolmer’s murder. Current and former players say it’s almost impossible to throw an entire match because it needs to involve at least five or six players in an 11-man team. But that doesn’t mean games can’t be manipulated in other ways with the connivance of just a player or two. Many people bet not on the end result but on specific plays: how many runs an individual batsman will make, how he will get out, when he will get out. This so-called spread or spot betting means games can be tampered with, if not completely rigged. Did Woolmer discover something untoward in the shock defeat to Ireland or the earlier loss to the West Indies that could have led to a confrontation and his death? Could he have been about to make some revelation about match fixing from his time with South Africa (he left before Cronje’s admissions) and Pakistan in a book he was writing? His wife and the book’s co-author say that last idea is nonsense, that the book was about coaching techniques, not corruption. But former South African captain Clive Rice told a Cape Town newspaper he had “absolutely no doubt” that Woolmer was killed because of what he knew.

Police questioned and fingerprinted Pakistan’s players and support staff before they left for home last weekend. “There is nothing to suggest that any of them are a suspect at this stage,” Shields said earlier this week. Investigators interviewed captain Inzamam-ul-Haq a second time just before he left Jamaica and asked him why before Woolmer’s death he had moved from a room on the 12th floor near his coach to the fifth floor. Because he wanted to be closer to the players, explained Inzamam. Pakistan’s bowling coach Mushtaq Ahmed was likewise grilled about a cut on his nose, which he says happened in training; photos back his claim.

Investigators are now focusing their attention on the closed-circuit TV tapes from the front elevator banks on the 12th floor, hoping they will reveal who visited Woolmer in the hours before he died. They are also examining Woolmer’s laptop, which was left in the room by the killer or killers. “Yesterday is history, tomorrow is a mystery. Today is the present—a gift to make the most of,” went Woolmer’s personal mantra. For one of cricket’s most interesting characters there will be no more tomorrow. But for now, the mystery remains.

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