It Never Rains February 17, 2008

An everycricketer's journal

It's a rare player of any level who will not recognise him or herself in some or even all of the attitudes on show in Roebuck's diary of his 1983 season

PM Roebuck had a respectable season for Somerset in 1983, making 1235 first-class runs at 37.43. But it was what he got up to between times that mattered. An aspiring writer who had taken a First in Law at Cambridge University - he had already assembled a book, Slices of Cricket (1982), from his short pieces - he was recording his day-by-day impressions of the season in a diary.

The result, It Never Rains, was rightly judged a classic of the genre. Although Roebuck was never your average county pro, he managed to create something that had a touch of the everycricketer: a journal humdrum, hilarious and harrowing by turns. The experience of having to "sleep, dine, drink, play and travel with the same fellows, always sharing the same dressing room and always relying on each other on the field" is a mix of the companionable and the claustrophobic; the almost daily measure of capability on the scoresheet provides a steady drumbeat, sometimes inspiriting, occasionally dirge-like.

"God, how I hate getting out," he muses sardonically after a mere handful of innings. "I poked around again. Edged in a single somewhere and then had my off stump knocked back. It was a good ball, at least I think it was. I say it left me and kept low. My partner Richards, says it kept low and nipped back. It was probably straight." Wry humour leavens the experience: "The Times says I was uncharacteristic in the first innings, the Guardian unsympathetically says I failed twice in the day and the Telegraph reckons I was out to a cruel shooter in the second innings. Luckily it's the Telegraph most cricketers read ..."

At the nadir of his fortunes, the entry in It Never Rains is blank. Roebuck has decided that cricket is a "worthless existence", and that it is "time to admit defeat and to give myself something to have a go at". The next day, after talking to his favourite team-mates, he reasons that cricket is not the problem, and feels his "competitive instincts aroused" again. The season ends with a trophy for Somerset, and a fluent century that makes him wonder whether he hasn't been "too intense" all along. Roebuck later described the book as a form of self therapy: "To me it was a way of saying Goodbye to All That. Once written, it was no longer true about my life, though it remains true about others." Quite so. It's a rare cricketer of any level who will not recognise him or herself in some or even all of the attitudes on show in It Never Rains.

Roebuck on opening the batting: As Rose and I sat in the warmth of the dressing room wondering how long we could desert our cold troops practising their fielding, he asked me if I wanted to open this year. My first sustained experience as an opener was last year and it was only a partial success. I started opening partly because it secured my place in the Somerset team - there were no other people willing and able to open in Championship cricket except some youngsters - and partly because there are hardly any openers in England and it was my only chance of representing my country.

Mind you, I'm not certain that deep down I want to represent my country. Not everyone does. It is obvious to me that I either want to play for England too much or not at all. How else can I explain several total collapses of form when people begin to speculate that my chance is bound to come soon? Am I too excited or too fearful? I can remember a benefit game last year when, as I was walking out to bat, I heard a spectator say to his son, "There goes England's next opener." I remember thinking, "Oh no, don't say that." Because it was something I desperately wanted? Or because I didn't relish the harsh exposure of a Test match?

It Never Rains: A Cricketer's Lot
by Peter Roebuck
Allen and Unwin, 1984

Gideon Haigh is a cricket historian and writer