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All these years later, ten of them, the events of those 24 hours in Kingston still seem surreal. The agony and ecstasy, the euphoria and depression. © Getty Images

As the St. Patrick’s Day sun reached its zenith above Sabina Park, the Pakistani wickets started to tumble and the Red Stripes went down quickly. Among the Irish fans singing of “Dublin’s fair city, where the girls are so pretty” [Molly Malone], there were some tears as well. Brian O’Driscoll’s heroic Rugby Union side had battered Italy in Rome, but late tries for France against Scotland in Paris meant that the ache for Five/Six Nations glory would extend to a 23rd year.

Away from the emotion in the stands, it was hard to make sense of what was going on in the field. On a pitch that was almost Shamrock green, the opening bowlers had interspersed some jaffas with wayward dross – there were 23 wides. In what was shaping up to be a low-scoring contest, every extra mattered, and it was Andre Botha, who had once played for Griquas in South Africa, that nudged the pendulum decisively Ireland’s way. He dismissed Inzamam-ul-Haq and Imran Nazir after Trent Johnston, the captain, had dusted off his chicken dance to celebrate a wretched stroke from Mohammad Yousuf.

Woolmer refused to confirm whether the defeat – effigies were already being burned in cities like Multan – would spell the end of the coaching road. “I’d like to sleep on my future as coach,” he said. “I’ve had bad days before, the worst of them was at Edgbaston in 1999 [South Africa missed out on the final despite the game against Australia ending in a tie]. Things like this happen in cricket.”

As Inzamam trudged off, with Pakistan’s World Cup future in jeopardy, some Irish fans even had the cheek to sing: “Are you England in disguise?” The Rednex’ 1990s hit, Cotton Eye Joe, blared across a stadium once associated with West Indian demolition jobs, and Pakistan sank further and further into quicksand of their own creation. The Irish Elvis impersonators joined the leprechaun in a conga to celebrate.

Johnston, who led with flair and imagination in conditions tailor-made for his medium-pace attack, also played his part in the game’s decisive moment. Kamran Akmal had eased to 27 without too much trouble, when he miscued a pull off the speedy Boyd Rankin. Running back from mid-on, Johnston took a catch every bit as stunning as Martin Crowe’s to dismiss Dave Houghton in Hyderabad two decades earlier.

Whatever the conditions, 132 was a pitiful score, but with Mohammad Sami bowling like a zephyr, Ireland were soon 15 for 2. It was a situation that called out for a hero, and in Niall O’Brien, Ireland found one. Having kept wicket earlier in the day, he started off with a crisp square drive for four. When he then leaned into a glorious off drive off Umar Gul, the anxiety began to dissipate.

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“Playing against such teams can be a banana-skin, and you saw that today, with Bangladesh beating India as well. I think you can say that March 17, 2007 will be a historic day for cricket,” said Woolmer as the Irish celebrated. © Getty Images

By the time he was out for 72, O’Brien had scored 72 of the 93 runs added while he was at the crease. Any way you look at it, it was one of the great World Cup innings. There was still a late Rao Iftikhar-induced wobble, but Johnston – who else? – sealed it by thumping Azhar Mahmood over long-on for six.

The team of part-timers led by a textile salesman had eliminated the 1992 champions, with three wickets and 50 balls to spare, and claimed a place in the Super Eights. “I didn’t do too well in English at school,” said the Wollongong-born Johnston with a Cheshire cat grin when asked to describe the emotions afterwards. “I can’t think of a word for it really. It was just amazing.”

A Rastafarian sat near the table where we were having lunch expressed that sentiment even more eloquently. “Maybe he (Woolmer) take it to heart?” he said. “Even da biggest team can lose to the little team, maan. It a game, and da ball round.”

The usually ebullient Bob Woolmer was as subdued as most had ever seen him. “We have to wait and see what happens next,” he said. “Basically, our World Cup is over. I didn’t think their bowling was anything special. From my perspective, we just didn’t score enough runs.”

Perhaps aware that those words might come across as churlish, Woolmer, who had done so much to spread the cricket gospel among the associate sides, added: “I’m fully in favour of 16 teams. Playing against such teams can be a banana-skin, and you saw that today, with Bangladesh beating India as well. I think you can say that March 17, 2007 will be a historic day for cricket.”

He refused to confirm whether the defeat – effigies were already being burned in cities like Multan – would spell the end of the coaching road. “I’d like to sleep on my future as coach,” he said. “I’ve had bad days before, the worst of them was at Edgbaston in 1999 [South Africa missed out on the final despite the game against Australia ending in a tie]. Things like this happen in cricket.”

As the popular Woolmer left the room, few could have imagined that they would never see him again. After a St. Patrick’s Day to savour, the Irish contingent headed to Ocho Rios, or to the many watering holes in Kingston. There were few clear heads the next morning when phones started ringing and the dreadful news started filtering through.

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The Pakistan players observe a minute’s silence in Woolmer’s memory during their final game of the 2007 World Cup, against Zimbabwe, at Sabina Park. © Getty Images

By noon, the press pack had gathered at the University Hospital, where it was eventually confirmed that Robert Andrew Woolmer had passed away. In a daze, I remember calling Greg Chappell, whose Indian side were also on the verge of a World Cup exit. Chappell, whose tumultuous spell as coach was winding down, spoke with both emotion and candour. “I’d say so,” he replied, when asked if the stakes were far higher in south Asia. “It’s definitely more under the spotlight than in other countries.

“The expectations are far higher. But in the light of this tragic event, I think we need to take pause and make sure that we don’t get too stressed about what is after all only a game.”

A Rastafarian sat near the table where we were having lunch expressed that sentiment even more eloquently. “Maybe he (Woolmer) take it to heart?” he said. “Even da biggest team can lose to the little team, maan. It a game, and da ball round.”

These years later, the events of those 24 hours still seem surreal. The agony and ecstasy, the euphoria and depression. When I think of it now, it’s all with the soundtrack provided by one of Ireland’s most loved songs.

Low lie the Fields of Athenry
Where once we watched the small free birds fly.
Our love was on the wing, we had dreams and songs to sing…