November 13, 2011

Remembering Roebuck

Peter Roebuck's judgements were based not merely on the keenest understanding of the game but on a wider understanding of society, history and human behaviour, and his ability to connect the dots
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I don't precisely recall when and where I met Peter Roebuck first; it feels like I always knew him. It must have been in the English summer of 2001, or perhaps 2002. I am certain he was wearing a straw hat, and was struck by his physicality: large and strong hands, sharp nose, enquiring eyes, and hair protruding out of his ears. But the strongest, most lasting impression was left by his manner of delivering sweeping snap judgements.

"I think the best cricket writing now comes out of India." He said this out of the blue, without a preamble, and without bothering to qualify it. And this continued through my ten-year association with him, in emails, in conversation, and even in his columns.

Of course, he was not always right. The last time I met him in person was in Sri Lanka during the last World Cup. He spoke animatedly about a young Sri Lankan journalist he had just met, and tried to persuade me to hire him as a writer. The young man in question walked up to us a few minutes later. He turned out to be a photographer. "How many times have we been told not to rush in to a judgement," Roebuck said upon instant reflection. But nothing dissuaded him from making them. And often he was spot-on.

His judgements were based not merely on the keenest understanding of the game but on a wider understanding of society, history and human behaviour, and his ability to connect the dots. Like all good writers, he was observant, sensitive, and deeply affected by the world outside, even as he grappled with his own complexities.

Few drew better portraits of cricketers as human beings because few had the combination of his talents: having been a player himself, he had the ability to view the inner lives of cricketers from the outside. He grasped their torment, and had the gift with words with which to articulate it. At the top of his game, his writing was both profound and poignant. His writing, in a sense, was like Brian Lara's batsmanship: it had beauty and depth, it reflected his moods, and while it could be inconsistent, it attained incomparable heights. Even his poorer pieces contained priceless gems.

Among the cricket people I have known, he cared more than most about the game, and he worried incessantly about its future. He saw his writing as not merely a vocation but as an obligation to the game. To this effect, he became a missionary and avenger. In his latter years his concerns grew wider. He was deeply affected by the political situation in Zimbabwe, where he had a home, and he sometimes began exceeding his brief in his cricket writings. When Firdose Moonda, our South Africa correspondent, travelled to Zimbabwe to cover the country's return to Test cricket, I sought Roebuck's advice on stories she could pursue. For the next two weeks he wrote me almost daily, suggesting ideas, pointing me towards reports and other writings on Zimbabwe. Very few of these were cricket-related.

He wrote for ESPNcricinfo because he wanted to be a global voice on a global platform. The idea mattered a great deal to him. That modern cricket writing for the most part was influenced by nationalism was a constant lament of his. He brought to his writing his own beliefs and biases, but it was refreshingly shorn of any other allegiance. He maintained a curiously complex relationship with England, his home country - it was tough to say at times whether he abandoned England or if England had abandoned him - and was open in embracing the Australian way of life, but his outlook, shaped by his experiences of living in different countries, his curiosity about different peoples and cultures, remained scrupulously global.

In the last couple of years he had been enamoured of the idea of becoming a part-time resident of India, a country he regarded with affection. It was, I suspected, partly down to his restless nature, and partly his unflinching desire to reinforce, to himself, the idea of his rootlessness.

Only a few days ago he was a guest on a yet-to-be-published episode of Time Out, our audio discussion show, hosted by Harsha Bhogle. The subject was spot-fixing, and he spoke lucidly and precisely. He laughed at the jokes and told Osman Samiuddin, our former Pakistan editor, and a guest on the show, that he looked forward to seeing him in South Africa.

For a person who never held back from expressing his views on the affairs of the game or the world, he led a very private life. After he stopped playing, he withdrew completely from the world of players. He rarely met them or interviewed them. Not knowing them personally, he said, gave him the objectivity to write about their cricket. He was usually the first to leave the press box, normally within a couple of minutes after the last ball had been bowled, and if he ever met fellow journalists outside of work, it was one on one. And he did most of talking then.

The circumstances that led him to take his life are unclear. Though I knew the writer quite well, I had little access to the person. Even great men are not free of flaws. I will remember Peter for his gifts.

Sambit Bal is the editor of ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • anonymous on November 14, 2011, 12:43 GMT

    I am struck by lack of reporting of his alleged crime amd past criminality, it is high time to lose the colonial mentality and report facts without being intimidated by the color of his skin.

  • Robin Sen on November 14, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    I not only send my condolences to his family and friends but I'd like to take the time to thank Peter Roebuck. During India's series in Oz..he was the one that really shot from the hips and pointed out the deliberate mistakes made by the Australian team. I resepect him for that. No one covered that series as well as PR. God bless you.

  • Sanjay Sengupta on November 14, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    A Sad day for cricket...We will miss you Peter !!!

  • Simoc on November 14, 2011, 11:06 GMT

    Great cricket life for Peter Roebuck. He was excellent on commentary comments and writing. The death sounds suspicious with a uniformed police in the room at 9pm on a Saturday night (an observer was he). These police have some explaining to do. Why were they there? If they are like our Australian police they should not be trusted at all.I hope the investigation is not the normal cover-up.

  • Vijesh.B on November 14, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    Truly A Great Writer ,who could convey his ideas in beautiful style.RIP Peter

  • abhinay on November 14, 2011, 8:09 GMT

    when i first read one of his articles in the hindu i somewhere in my mind felt they were directly getting to the point whatsoever he was very broad minded from the cricketer's point of view and almost never held back his thoughts about a given discussion its like i grew up reading them and its kind of hard to accept the fact that he is not around any more we are going to miss you sir

  • Dr H.S. Raghavendra Rao on November 14, 2011, 7:46 GMT

    A genuine tribute to a great cricket journalist. Peter Roebuck was very objective and he was truly concerned about the game. He reminded one of writers such as Jack Fingleton, Bill o Reilly and Tony Cozier. He was never driven by narrow nationalistic considerations. He will be sorely missed.

  • Navin Agarwal on November 14, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    Cricket lovers the world over will miss a great writer. I have always waited eagerly for his columns and admired his depth of knowledge and quality writing on cricket. We will miss you Peter! Rest in peace.

  • devesh on November 14, 2011, 7:11 GMT

    RIP Peter Roebuck......you'll be missed.

  • S A Raja on November 14, 2011, 6:52 GMT

    A lovely tribute to a great Columnist. He will always be remembered for his frank and unbiased opinion on Cricket Matters.

    Rest in Peace Peter!!!

    S A Raja

  • anonymous on November 14, 2011, 12:43 GMT

    I am struck by lack of reporting of his alleged crime amd past criminality, it is high time to lose the colonial mentality and report facts without being intimidated by the color of his skin.

  • Robin Sen on November 14, 2011, 12:36 GMT

    I not only send my condolences to his family and friends but I'd like to take the time to thank Peter Roebuck. During India's series in Oz..he was the one that really shot from the hips and pointed out the deliberate mistakes made by the Australian team. I resepect him for that. No one covered that series as well as PR. God bless you.

  • Sanjay Sengupta on November 14, 2011, 11:44 GMT

    A Sad day for cricket...We will miss you Peter !!!

  • Simoc on November 14, 2011, 11:06 GMT

    Great cricket life for Peter Roebuck. He was excellent on commentary comments and writing. The death sounds suspicious with a uniformed police in the room at 9pm on a Saturday night (an observer was he). These police have some explaining to do. Why were they there? If they are like our Australian police they should not be trusted at all.I hope the investigation is not the normal cover-up.

  • Vijesh.B on November 14, 2011, 8:43 GMT

    Truly A Great Writer ,who could convey his ideas in beautiful style.RIP Peter

  • abhinay on November 14, 2011, 8:09 GMT

    when i first read one of his articles in the hindu i somewhere in my mind felt they were directly getting to the point whatsoever he was very broad minded from the cricketer's point of view and almost never held back his thoughts about a given discussion its like i grew up reading them and its kind of hard to accept the fact that he is not around any more we are going to miss you sir

  • Dr H.S. Raghavendra Rao on November 14, 2011, 7:46 GMT

    A genuine tribute to a great cricket journalist. Peter Roebuck was very objective and he was truly concerned about the game. He reminded one of writers such as Jack Fingleton, Bill o Reilly and Tony Cozier. He was never driven by narrow nationalistic considerations. He will be sorely missed.

  • Navin Agarwal on November 14, 2011, 7:37 GMT

    Cricket lovers the world over will miss a great writer. I have always waited eagerly for his columns and admired his depth of knowledge and quality writing on cricket. We will miss you Peter! Rest in peace.

  • devesh on November 14, 2011, 7:11 GMT

    RIP Peter Roebuck......you'll be missed.

  • S A Raja on November 14, 2011, 6:52 GMT

    A lovely tribute to a great Columnist. He will always be remembered for his frank and unbiased opinion on Cricket Matters.

    Rest in Peace Peter!!!

    S A Raja

  • venbas on November 14, 2011, 6:49 GMT

    Compared to the rants of a Gavaskar or Shastri whose act as a proxy filler for their bosses in BCCI, the writings of Peter Roebuck always came across as a fresh breath. RIP Peter. I am sure you will be busy keeping the folks at St. Peters gates entertained with your cricketing anecdotes.

  • senthil_PROTEAS on November 14, 2011, 6:49 GMT

    RIP PETER

  • SM on November 14, 2011, 6:33 GMT

    sad, but hope and pray that this is NOT a case similar to Penn State U!

  • Brajesh Singh on November 14, 2011, 5:58 GMT

    Peter was a great writer. We all cricket lovers will miss his column certainly. RIP Peter.

  • Barndog on November 14, 2011, 5:25 GMT

    No ones mentioned it in the comments, but he was obvioulsy a "tortured soul". His personal life was very personal but reading between the lines he seemed to be wrestling with his own demons for many years. What a tragedy, as i will look back on a once in a generation cricket writer whose column i would always read first, but think about the man who was unhappy enough to take his own life when questioned by police over assault allegtaions, and all that went before that in his life.

  • Ankush Rathore on November 14, 2011, 5:10 GMT

    RIP Pete. Reading about cricket will always be monotonous from now onwards. Thanks for offering such wonderful readings over the years. You were an institution, and my personal favourite. Don't know if I will ever read about cricket anymore!

  • brianthomas_mtv@yahoo.com on November 14, 2011, 3:59 GMT

    Excellent Tribute. Yes I have known Peter for over a decade. As the Media Manager for Sri Lanka Cricket, i associated with him very closely. Peter we will miss you. " Thank you for the memories" We at the press box have lost an Icon. "good bye Peter" you will live in our hearts. Brian Thoma

  • Sher on November 14, 2011, 3:39 GMT

    This is shocking! Very sad to read about Peter Roebuck's death. Enjoyed reading his articles.May his soul rest in peace.

  • Vishy on November 14, 2011, 2:54 GMT

    No one has mastered his ability to switch between writing and commenting about cricket - you never can remember if it is something that Peter said or wrote - but you remember his message regardless..Deeply sadenned by his shocking demise.

  • francis pereira on November 14, 2011, 2:09 GMT

    a wonderful writer who gave me so much pleasure reading his articles.He will be missed this summer in australia.Perhaps second only to Neville Cardus in his writing of the game.

  • Hemal on November 14, 2011, 1:40 GMT

    It was really shocking when I read this news. Peter had a great capability to address and explain the controversial issues with out being biased to anyone. This is an extreme loss to the cricketing world. We all will miss his expert comments in Cricinfo, ABC or SMH. Huge condolence to Roebuck family and to all his fans (Including me). PS: As working in the psychiatry - suicide prevention, I could understand the pain and the mental distress he would have gone through.

  • Mark Jay on November 14, 2011, 1:36 GMT

    I agree with Madhuri Iyer's nice comment. I second all that. Thanks Sambit Bal for your really nice tribute. The cricket writing world and cricket will surely miss such a fine writer and cricket commentator.

  • Vish on November 14, 2011, 1:10 GMT

    Irrespective of the circumstances behind his death we cricker afficianados need to keep in mind Peter's fearless ability to call a spade by its name. I still remember the way he ripped into Ricky Ponting at his peak. In Oz the captain of the cricket team ranks only behind the prime minister in prestige! I will miss his incisive, yes sometimes emotive, articles.

  • Matt on November 13, 2011, 23:50 GMT

    A very good writer and broadcaster, even a great one at times - although always too eager to buy into the standard anti-colonial cliches; i.e. Ponting is a "wild dog" while Harbhajan is merely an "intemperate Sikh warrior". Hence his popularity on Cricinfo.

    An obviously complex and intelligent man who at his best was a penetrating thinker about the game. A man whose love of the game shone through everything he wrote and said.

    A deeply flawed individual who was perhaps indulged too much by the wider cricket community when questions should have been asked about his actions and motives. Sad times for cricket ahead, I fear.

  • Salman Aziz on November 13, 2011, 23:32 GMT

    Overtime cricket was no longer rooting for Pakistan but for cricket in general. Reading columns from Agnew or Gati, accepting that Osman Samiuddin would speak for all of us when he shows his frustration with the Butt of all jokes, expecting sneering snobbery from Sambit Bal and i guess expecting to get to the meat of the issue reading Peter.

    He will be missed, cricket will miss him, we will all miss him. RIP

  • Anant on November 13, 2011, 22:17 GMT

    If someone could hit the nail on its head with words, it was Peter. His no nonsense stle of analysis will be greatly missed.

  • armando gonsalves on November 13, 2011, 22:05 GMT

    What a lovely tribute, Sambit! I am a cricket lover, and have followed Peter Roebuck.....his name is synonymous with cricket. Have enjoyed his words, and yours too, through the years

    Cricket will miss Peter, very sad way to end a life. I really hope and pray that his soul R.I.P!

    May God bless us all, Armando

  • Julian on November 13, 2011, 22:04 GMT

    Very sad news, Roebuck was a superb commentator - crisp and insightful. His writing could make test cricket seem like Shakespearean drama, he had a great understanding and appreciation of the game. I was looking forward to reading his articles this summer. R.I.P.

  • igloo on November 13, 2011, 22:04 GMT

    Well said, Bis. A tormented, warped soul and an insecure commentator, at best a hack, certainly aq second-rate writer, despite the apologies pouring in. If he took the only escape route from himself, it's time to pause and show some sympathy for his victims. many of whom were far too young to do anything but trust him...

  • Anonymous on November 13, 2011, 21:32 GMT

    It never rains was a great book - it made a big impression on me. I felt though his writing strained for style, looked too hard for original expression. For instance, one article about the Pakistan team of the late 1970s talked about the "the round-faced contributions of Mushtaq Mohammad". What exactly is a round faced contribution?

  • Paul on November 13, 2011, 21:01 GMT

    I'm 100% with Bis on this one.

    I know most of you will not agree with me, but I found Peter's writing to be too political and his points to be often completely unfounded. He made critical errors generalising about cultures and history. I tried to confront him on many of his articles through the comments section, its a pity he probably never read some of the comments as I'm sure he would have liked to discuss those matters. I for one will not miss his writing at all, it irritated me. RIP Peter.

  • surendra doulat on November 13, 2011, 20:28 GMT

    a really good tribute thanks i allways found Peter's articles tought provoking and direct never beat around the bushes he will be miss by the cricketing fraternity. but,in the end what a wast of a life which supposedly had a while to go. thaks to Peter for the reading pleasure he brought to millions

  • Saswat on November 13, 2011, 20:07 GMT

    He indeed was an excellent writer and had a global view. I will remember him for his scathing criticism of Ricky Ponting after the eventful Sydney test between India and Australia.

  • Saswat on November 13, 2011, 20:06 GMT

    He indeed was an excellent writer and had a global view. I will remember him for his scathing criticism of Ricky Ponting after the Sydney test.

  • Madhuri Iyer on November 13, 2011, 18:45 GMT

    People, it would be really nice if we could not talk about his off the field activities....At least not on such a beautiful article that has captured the cricketer and writer in Peter...And that is the only way we knew him. And we adored that man...And we shall continue doing so. At least I will.. Sambit, an amazing tribute to him. Thanks a lot. May his soul rest in peace.

  • Shafin Zaman on November 13, 2011, 18:36 GMT

    He was a great man..........We will miss his column........We are mourn.

  • kathy on November 13, 2011, 18:21 GMT

    A gud tribute indeed to the great man !! d Globe z gonna miss him .. stil can take his death .. R.I.P Peter !!

  • Sattwik on November 13, 2011, 18:20 GMT

    He was one of the greatest cricket writers I've read. RIP Peter Roebuck!

  • RAHUL on November 13, 2011, 18:09 GMT

    RIP Peter, will miss u sorely.

  • amiya pani on November 13, 2011, 18:08 GMT

    He was great. we will miss him.

  • Ganesh Hegde on November 13, 2011, 17:13 GMT

    What irony...I had opened the webpage of espncricinfo hoping to grasp and read the latest Roebuck column and the top news says..."Roebuck dies at 55" RIP Peter Roebuck..You were magnificent and beautiful

  • Mark on November 13, 2011, 17:10 GMT

    Very well written. In the last week I have just finished my own degree in journalism and media studies; Roebuck was always one of my inspirations. I have grown up listening to him on the radio and reading his columns. It is such sad news to hear of his passing, far too soon. And the circumstances too; I cannot help but think that it simply should not have happened. Thank you for sharing with us Sambit, may he rest in peace.

  • Deepak Odhekar on November 13, 2011, 16:54 GMT

    Great piece of writing. a perfect tribute to a great man. we will miss him.

  • Chat on November 13, 2011, 16:42 GMT

    Great article. Thanks, Sambit.

  • Bis on November 13, 2011, 16:39 GMT

    Roebuck did have certain insights into the inner world of cricketers - he was after all a cricketer himself. But I found his writing to be largely cliche-ridden and betraying insecurities, especially when he tried to make general points transcending cricket. I especially recoiled with embarassment at some of his generalisations about other nationalities, as if he had some specialist knowledge about those cultures rather than relying on the most banal platitudes. I was not surprised when I read about his conviction - it was not hard to detect that repressed public schoolboy in his writing. Although the exact reasons for his death are as yet unclear, it would not surprise me if the circunstances were very sordid indeed. Sambit says he knew the writer but had little access to the man - perhaps he should take a little more responsibility and acknowledge that he should have taken the trouble to get to know the man a little better.

  • Nikhil on November 13, 2011, 15:55 GMT

    A great article about Peter. He will be missed. RIP.

  • Warren Lee on November 13, 2011, 15:46 GMT

    It is our habit to idolize people. Obviously, Mr. Roebuck's off-field activities were not graceful.

  • Somnath DasGupta on November 13, 2011, 15:44 GMT

    Peter, will miss your forthright views and style with subtle nuances even though did not agree with some of them - RIP. Sambit - well written !.

  • Anonymous on November 13, 2011, 15:27 GMT

    Provided excellent insight, will me missed. RIP Peter Roebuck.

  • Siba Mohanty on November 13, 2011, 15:26 GMT

    Nice tribute, Mr Bal. Roebuck never held himself back when it came to take a stand. He will be remembered for that. Huge loss. My condolences. Rest in peace, Peter.

  • Abhik Banerjee on November 13, 2011, 15:04 GMT

    I feel the comparison to Lara sums up Peter Roebuck quite well. RIP.

  • Manoj on November 13, 2011, 15:01 GMT

    We all will remember Peter for his gifts, Sambit. Even though I personally felt that his writing had lost some of its luminosity in recent times, particularly the reports he did for the Sydney Morning Herald, he was still one of the most readable writers on the game. Good cricket writing, a rarity already, just became even rarer with Peter Roebuck's passing.

  • Nandakihore kuruppal on November 13, 2011, 14:47 GMT

    Sad day for Cricket and Cricket journalism. Hae lost the Guru among Sports writers. Adieu Peter. We will miss you sorely.

    RIP

  • Sukhbir Patheja on November 13, 2011, 13:48 GMT

    Sad. So sad. The cricketing world will be much poorer for his passing. RIP.

  • KPartha on November 13, 2011, 13:32 GMT

    A dream of a writer that as Harsha said is like Home Cooking...Discovered late, even the worst ingredients mixed together to make the tastiest dishes...RIP Peter Roebuck. One of the Giants in the writing world of The MOST Beautiful Game.

  • Eliya Abbas on November 13, 2011, 13:32 GMT

    RIP Peter :(

    @Sambit: Please hire Osman Samiuddin back... He was awesome!!

  • Saurabh on November 13, 2011, 13:28 GMT

    A great loss to the cricketing world. RIP.

    Also, since when is Samiuddin not at cricinfo? I loved his insights into Pakistan cricket. What is he doing now?

  • Imran Khan on November 13, 2011, 13:06 GMT

    RIP Peter Roebuck...a huge shock to me. His articles were worth looking and he will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences for his family and friends.

  • A sports fan on November 13, 2011, 13:04 GMT

    Rest in peace, Peter. You will always be fondly remembered.

  • Dr. B. Christofer Balram on November 13, 2011, 12:53 GMT

    My condolences to the Roebuck family. When I read the headline announcing his death on cricinfo I was shocked. I am sure many others were as well. Mr.Roebuck was a gifted man, and in my opinion, the best cricket writer around. His piece was mandatory reading for me - he was incisive and broadminded. He conveyed no bias in his assessment of the subject matter and that was a quality that few others possessed. He will be missed.

  • Ron Padua on November 13, 2011, 12:37 GMT

    I woke this morning and out of the blue felt like reading Peter's take on the surprising SA victory over Aus - I've always enjoyed his frank take. It was incredible timing that it was reported only three minutes earlier after doing a search that he had passed. I was very saddened because I will miss his gentlemn's articulate commentating on this beautiful sport. May he R.I.P.

  • Usman on November 13, 2011, 12:30 GMT

    I have enjoyed Peter's columns very much. His knowledge of cricket and analysis was amazing. His columns will be mised greatly. RIP Peter

  • Mark on November 13, 2011, 12:26 GMT

    Well said, Peter will be greatly missed.

  • Adam on November 13, 2011, 12:06 GMT

    Thank you Sambit, Peter wrote beautifully about cricket but he also managed to fit cricket into the broader community and the world, he made connections and threads that made sense but still left room for disagreement, the world is a lesser place for his passing and for people like yourself who knew him my thoughts go out to you

  • rajib sutradhar on November 13, 2011, 12:00 GMT

    Beautiful piece. I will miss him too.

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  • rajib sutradhar on November 13, 2011, 12:00 GMT

    Beautiful piece. I will miss him too.

  • Adam on November 13, 2011, 12:06 GMT

    Thank you Sambit, Peter wrote beautifully about cricket but he also managed to fit cricket into the broader community and the world, he made connections and threads that made sense but still left room for disagreement, the world is a lesser place for his passing and for people like yourself who knew him my thoughts go out to you

  • Mark on November 13, 2011, 12:26 GMT

    Well said, Peter will be greatly missed.

  • Usman on November 13, 2011, 12:30 GMT

    I have enjoyed Peter's columns very much. His knowledge of cricket and analysis was amazing. His columns will be mised greatly. RIP Peter

  • Ron Padua on November 13, 2011, 12:37 GMT

    I woke this morning and out of the blue felt like reading Peter's take on the surprising SA victory over Aus - I've always enjoyed his frank take. It was incredible timing that it was reported only three minutes earlier after doing a search that he had passed. I was very saddened because I will miss his gentlemn's articulate commentating on this beautiful sport. May he R.I.P.

  • Dr. B. Christofer Balram on November 13, 2011, 12:53 GMT

    My condolences to the Roebuck family. When I read the headline announcing his death on cricinfo I was shocked. I am sure many others were as well. Mr.Roebuck was a gifted man, and in my opinion, the best cricket writer around. His piece was mandatory reading for me - he was incisive and broadminded. He conveyed no bias in his assessment of the subject matter and that was a quality that few others possessed. He will be missed.

  • A sports fan on November 13, 2011, 13:04 GMT

    Rest in peace, Peter. You will always be fondly remembered.

  • Imran Khan on November 13, 2011, 13:06 GMT

    RIP Peter Roebuck...a huge shock to me. His articles were worth looking and he will be greatly missed. My deepest condolences for his family and friends.

  • Saurabh on November 13, 2011, 13:28 GMT

    A great loss to the cricketing world. RIP.

    Also, since when is Samiuddin not at cricinfo? I loved his insights into Pakistan cricket. What is he doing now?

  • Eliya Abbas on November 13, 2011, 13:32 GMT

    RIP Peter :(

    @Sambit: Please hire Osman Samiuddin back... He was awesome!!