November 13th 2011 will go down in the annals of Cricket history as one of its saddest days. It was the day that Cricket lost a great. Not just a former player, but one of the all time great writers the sport has seen.
That writer was Peter Roebuck. He is dead at the all too young age of fifty-five.
An Englishman – who took up Australian citizenship ten years ago –regarded by many as the finest cricket writer of his generation. Some would go even further, asserting a case in his favour for being one of the greats in the field of sports writing.
Obviously this is an extremely subjective topic, but to my mind Roebuck was without peer.
As Roebuck set out in the mid eighties to make a name for himself as a writer, there was to be nothing prosaic about his efforts. Bowlers were not bowlers. Instead they were known as flingers. Likewise, the batsmen were Willow-wielders.
As far as the latter is concerned, he himself wasn’t the worst willow-wielder going around. With an average of 37 in first class cricket he very nearly made it into the England test side of the late eighties as an opener. He didn’t quite possess the talent to forge his way to the top with a piece of willow though.
However, as a writer he was one of the best. No, he wasn’t just one of the best, he was a great. He was someone that had an ability that the rest of us can only dream of possessing.
The hue of his prose was as varied as a Bradman double century and regularly furnished with such exhilarating flourishes of literary shotmaking that even the bard himself would have been proud of.
During his peak of the last ten years as he followed the Australian team for the Sydney Morning Herald, those of us from countries elsewhere would regularly go hunting for his latest musings.
Truth be told, I didn’t always care for how Australia were faring. I’m a New Zealander, after all. But that was the power of Roebuck; you could resist with all your might, but still you would find yourself lured in by the powerfully rich aromas of his indomitable literary élan.
Columns of Roebuck’s were out there and simply had to be perused post haste. In reality the subject need not have mattered as it was simply a case of devouring his latest offering on the day’s cricketing occurrences.
That I cannot write this from a player’s perspective goes without saying. I’m not one, and never have been. Nor can I speak from the view of the media, who have worked with him. What I can do though is write from the outlook of someone who is a fan of the game, and even more so a devotee of the breathtakingly eloquent prose that Roebuck would regularly conjure up.
His knowledge of the game was beyond doubt. He knew his stuff, all right.
After having read eight hundred words of Roebuck, I always felt that my own understanding of the game had broadened on its previous limited capacity.
That was one of his great talents, in as much as he could analyse the game of cricket with the best of them, informing the reader on the tactics and techniques of the game in a way that we could all understand with ease.
Added to his ability as a wordsmith extraordinaire, he was multifaceted.
Those that knew him personally, those of us that didn’t, we’ll miss him.
Even those players that were sometimes on the receiving end of what could sometimes be a withering pen.
It is said that the pen is mightier than the sword, as some of the flingers and willow-wielders found out often. As was his wont, Roebuck could slice and dice with the best of them.
While he could be terse in his criticisms, he was fair minded, too.
Praise would be dished out effusively when it had been earned. But it had to be earned.
My only regret in writing this is that I would have liked to replicate Roebuck’s writing style as a tribute to the great man. But I can’t - none of us could. Quite simply, it is beyond the realms of my capabilities.
For Peter Roebuck was in a class of his own. So far ahead of his time, that we may never see another like him.
Colleagues, players, fans of the game will all miss him for sure.
For he was a great. And always will be a great.
RIP Peter Roebuck