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Monday, November 14, 2011

Vale Peter Roebuck - One of the Greats

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It was a great shock on Sunday morning to hear the news that Peter Roebuck had been found dead at his hotel in South Africa. While the manner and reason behind his demise was still mired in question, it did not detract from the fact that the game of cricket had lost one of its finest writers and observers.

Much will be said of his modest yet effective career as a first-class cricketer, captaining Somerset for a number of years and also being named as one of Wisden’s Cricketers of the Year in 1988, an achievement of the highest standing.
 However, it is his career as a journalist and writer that has delighted, informed and inspired so many people around the world. It is in this capacity that he has been to me a ‘mentor by correspondence’.

There are so many cricket journalists reporting for so many types of publications throughout Australia and the world. Most of these journalists, either through their own personality or ego, or the demands of their publication, write sensationalistic copy, which in the main focuses on the negative aspects of results or incidents. They look for the headline, seize it, and run with it until it is beyond dead. They will jump on a few words in a fifteen minute interview, and turn it into a story where no story exists, just to dredge up an old story that has long been buried. Anyone who recently saw Simon Katich’s interview after scoring a century in the Shield match will see this hypocrisy. He spoke of New South Wales cricket, of his determination to succeed this season, his return to bowling, and other such things. His throw-away line that he did not expect to play cricket again for Australia under the current regime took up less than five seconds of this interview, but it was ONLY this part that then made the headlines by the media. It was a joke, and a disgrace, one exacerbated by Cricket Australia who have since deemed it fit that Katich fronts them to explain his ‘actions’. Once again, the media creates a story when, in reality, none existed, and it is to their eternal disgrace and discredit that they continue to do so.

I spent most weekends through the late 1980’s and early 1990’s reading the columns of Peter Roebuck and John Benaud in the Sunday newspapers. In the days before the internet, before pay-tv, where there was limited television exposure of any cricket that wasn’t Test or International one day cricket within Australia, their incisive words of intellect were a breath of fresh air. They cut through the hype of the mainstream cricket media, able to balance both sides of any argument, and offered an informative insight into the cricket being played both on and off the field.

What was so inspiring about Roebuck’s writing was his unbiased attitude to all his articles. He was not nationalistic. He was an Englishman who played his cricket for an English county, he lived in Australia and South Africa, and worked in both these countries, and could have called them home, yet he never betrayed any bias in his articles to his feelings in this regard.
This did not mean that he wasn’t forthright in his opinions when required. In 2008 his article, which his editor deemed fit to place on the front page of his newspaper, called for the sacking of Australian captain Ricky Ponting after the Test against India at the SCG, which had a number of nasty incidents, not the least being the confrontation between Andrew Symonds, Matthew Hayden and Harbhajan Singh. He was constant and vigilant in his calls for the cricket world to embrace the Zimbabwe nation, to root out the evil that surrounded it and to save the nation's cricket, rather than condemn it to oblivion. He was also quite clear in pointing out that Michael Clarke had to make a choice between his relationship with Lara Bingle or cricket, as his off-field saga sapped at his performance on the field.

As with everyone in life, I did not always agree with his positions or conclusions. However, unlike so many other writers, I always came away from having read his articles feeling as though I had learned something about cricket, or found myself questioning my own beliefs on an issue through his thought provoking words.

My love of both writing and cricket had blossomed long before I first read any of Roebuck’s articles. Both had possibly even reached an obsessive stage by the time his first articles began appearing in Australian newspapers.
My desire as a teenager to become a journalist extended to applying for many cadetships at many newspapers, and even studying for a year at Mitchell College in Sydney. By my mid twenties I had been completely turned off the profession, mostly by the fact that serious journalism turned its back on reporting facts, and instead making sensationalism its key phrase. The search for the headline became its goal, and losing the basis of what journalism is - the reporting on events, not creating them to sell newspapers or advertising slots on TV programs.
My love for cricket never waned, even as my own shortcomings as a cricketer became glaringly obvious.

I spoke earlier of how Peter Roebuck became my ‘mentor by correspondence’. What I meant by that is simple. His writing inspired me to become more observant as a cricket watcher, to study the game and the players in a way I may never have done without reading his articles. He also inspired me to give something back to cricket in my own backyard. I began to write the cricket articles for our Club for the Kiama Independent, first for two years before moving away to Sydney, and then again for three years on my return five years later. In the present day, he has been one of my inspirations when it comes to doing the write-ups for our Grade cricket teams each week on our website. He is one of the people behind my decision to attempt the rudimentary Club history I have been dabbling with for the past two years. His writings, his witticisms, and his journalistic integrity have been the things that have inspired me to perform a modest reproduction on and off for twenty years on a much smaller scale, and with a much small readership.

No matter what may come out in the following days of the reasons why he took his own life on Saturday, world cricket has lost one of its greatest orators, and it is with profound sadness that I greeted this news. One wonders if we will ever be able to replace him.

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