Cricketer of the Year, 1988

Peter Roebuck

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For most of his 32 years, Peter Roebuck has nursed a burning ambition to be a highly successful member of a successful Somerset side. He played an important part in their emergence as a cricketing force when five limited-overs titles were won between 1979 and 1983, the first trophies in Somerset's long, diverting history. And he took a leading role in the rebuilding of the club after the divisive Richards-Garner-Botham controversy of 1986. His performance - as spokesman, batsman and captain - was vital to the 1987 improvement after that sad, vituperative episode.

His commitment stemmed from a fierce, competitive nature, based on a critical analysis of all the factors involved and the determination and talent to put his decisions to the test. His current vice-captain, Victor Marks, a friend of many years, said, He seems to thrive on contest, competition and conflict. He rises to the occasion, is very much alive and always reacts in a positive way. He has improved dramatically over the past few years, with the security of his position and the captaincy. He puts a great deal more energy into his job than most people could. Somerset's coach, Peter Robinson, recalled many hours spent with the bowling machine, ironing out technical faults which he, Roebuck, had found.

Known for some time as a rather dour, studious, and bespectacled batsman, he revealed another side of his nature through his witty, pointed observations in his writings for a number of outlets. And in 1987, as he extended his range of strokes and even hit ten sixes, his batting has displayed a new dimension. "I now go in trying to take the initiative," he said, "instead of waiting for things to develop." The hundred he scored when his index finger was broken at Headingley in May was his fourth in all competitions in a thirteen-day period, and when he returned to the side after that injury, he took his tally of first-class hundreds to five. Only Hick, Athey, Crowe and Gatting hit more. He missed by a single run averaging 50 for the season.

Born in Oxford on March 6, 1956, PETER MICHAEL ROEBUCK, one of six children of schoolteachers, grew up initially in a third-floor flat in Bath. His father was a cricket enthusiast, his mother kept wicket for Oxford University ladies; one of his sisters later captained that team. Yet when it was apparent how badly bitten he was by the cricket bug - in the 1960s when professional cricket was at a very low ebb - it was felt he should be dissuaded from pursuing cricket as a living. Perhaps, it was thought, if he were hit and hurt by a cricket ball, he might share the view. Consequently, he was taken to Peter Wight's indoor school at Bath, was hit, hurt and taken to hospital. "When I came back, I wanted to play just as much. That was the first hurdle overcome."

He was completely wrapped up in Somerset cricket from about the age of ten, but one way of practising was soon stopped. Hitting a plastic ball against the wall of an adjoining flat, and giving a running commentary, was useful training. Unfortunately, the adjoining flat was used by a group holding séances (trying to get in contact with Aunt Doris's poodle, suggested Roebuck), and having quite misinterpreted the tappings and the voice, they were very cross when the real source was discovered.

As his cricket came on in Bath junior circles, his parents decided to seek a scholarship at Millfield School, the nursery of many budding sportsmen. The first thing he saw when opening the study door of the founder, the highly individual R. J. O. Meyer, was an orange coming at him. He caught it. The intelligence test that followed he found totally incomprehensible, but the results were momentous for the family. Peter, his younger brother, and two of his sisters were given free scholarships, his parents were taken on the staff, and they were given a house in Street.

Quickly he appeared in the Somerset Second XI, as a four foot two leg-spinner, with a good googly, who batted No. 11 with a sound technique but not enough strength to get runs against far bigger chaps. He was thirteen. In due course he went to Cambridge, worked hard for a degree (he ended with a First Class Honours in Law) and continued with the cricket he loved. He made 158 in the 1975 University Match, against Vic Marks, and both were in the Oxford and Cambridge side which beat Yorkshire in the Benson and Hedges Cup the next year.

However, 1976 brought another steep hurdle. The pace of the West Indian fast bowler, Andy Roberts, was outside Roebuck's experience at the time. Opening the innings for the Combined side at Fenner's, he ducked into a bouncer and, although feeling fairly well, was taken to hospital. A nurse, shown where he was hit, said, Another quarter of an inch the other way and you'd have been a goner. Roebuck returned to the crease, and soon Roberts knocked his cap off. He went away, and in a dark room, playing a Joni Mitchell record, he realised that if he wanted to play first-class cricket, he had a lot to learn. He reckoned he had the talent, reflexes and ability to do it, so methodically he worked out what to do and how to do it. Perhaps the most courageous thing I've done, he thinks. You never know until you've been hit like that - the smell of leather, you know.

Life with Somerset was not always easy. So many remarkable characters surrounded him, making him even more withdrawn, but his first full season in 1978 was a success. Then came the triumphant Somerset period. He had never thought about captaining Somerset, but in 1983, when the World Cup required Botham, Marks, Richard and Garner, he found himself captaining a young side when Brian Rose was injured. The players reacted well, Roebuck enjoyed it, and subsequently he became involved in the broader issues of the club.

The rumblings of the 1986 row were present even then. Too many people taking and not giving, and Too many people putting their heads in too much sand for too long. He rationalised it, made his decision - the most difficult and painful I've ever taken - and helped to carry it through. Now Roebuck's ambitions are simple. "I want to see Somerset the best club in the land and winning the Championship. Oh, I'd also like to get in the top ten of Somerset run-scorers."

One of the best rewards of 1987, he said, was to note how great bowlers such as Marshall, Hadlee and Clarke seemed to bowl better at him than at others. "It can be uncomfortable, but I take it as a challenge - and as a compliment when I see how they look when they've got my wicket."

© John Wisden & Co