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Anorak | No Peace For Peter Roebuck: Writers Praise Him Before The Facts Of His Death Are Known

No Peace For Peter Roebuck: Writers Praise Him Before The Facts Of His Death Are Known

by | 14th, November 2011

RIP Peter Roebuck? He was 55. The former Somerset captain turned journalist for the Sydney Morning Herald and Melbourne’s The Age has died. He committed suicide by throwing himself from the balcony of a sixth-floor hotel room in Cape Town where he was staying while covering the ongoing Test series between South Africa and Australia.

He had been questioned about an alleged sexual assault. A detective and uniformed officer from Cape Town’s sexual crimes unit spoke to him at around 9pm after he returned to his room in the Southern Sun hotel. Roebuck reportedly became agitated and contacted a journalist about getting legal advice. One report says he jumped while police were still in the room. He landed on the hotel awning.

Colonel Vishnu Naidoo of the South African Police Services

“An inquest can take a long time, it can be anything from six months to two or three years, but what is critical here is to get the autopsy reports, or what we call the post-mortem report. We will be looking at that first and that can take four to six weeks, sometimes up to eight weeks. When we get that report, we can determine officially what his cause of death was. There is no crime suspected as far as Mr Roebuck’s death is concerned. If someone dies of unnatural causes and there isn’t suspicion of a crime being committed, then we conduct an inquest. In this time, we will undertake the normal investigation. We will take statements, we will await medical reports and that will form part of our investigation.”

The facts are not yet known. ButFairfax’s Greg Baum already knows:

He was tormented as only genius can be. The circumstances of his death attest to it.

Roebuck had what tabloid journalists call “his demons”:

In 2001, Roebuck was given a suspended jail sentence after pleading guilty to common assault against three 19-year-old South African men whom he had put up in his Somerset home while coaching them. Roebuck had caned them for what he claimed was slackness.

Judge Graham Hume Jones told Roebuck at his trial that his action had been “inappropriate”. He said: “It seems so unusual that it must have been done to satisfy some need in you. You used your position to abuse these boys and humiliate them.”

Roebuck was sentenced to four months in jail for each count, with the sentences suspended for two years, at Taunton Crown Court.

But he could write. And if you good at your job, your peers will prise you. And if you’re good at your media job, that praise will be all over the media.

In his preface to It Never Rains, Roebuck wrote: “I’m not a genius, nor tormented — well, not much …

THE OBITUARIES:

Cricket commentator Tony Greig, a former England captain, Tweets:

“The death of Peter Roebuck leaves the grass less green and cricket without its most effective investigative journalist.”

Vic Marks (Guardian), who played with Roebuck at Somerset:

He could unravel cricket and cricketers with piercing clarity. Yet if anyone tried to do the same with him, the drawbridge was liable to go up with a resounding clunk. He could not share the demons within and tragically went the same way as another Somerset opener, Harold Gimblett. And we are left to wonder why.

Derek Pringle (Telegraph):

“Peter Roebuck was a tortured, driven soul, but his suicide still comes as a shock. Cricket has lost its most erudite idealist.”

Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, offers:

“CSA has lost a good friend. He was a fierce critic of South African cricket in the unhappy days of the rebel tours but he made a personal tour of South Africa after the completion of the unity process and the establishment of the United Cricket Board of South Africa. Peter had homes in both South Africa and Australia and he had a tremendous passion for the emergence of a Proteas team that would accurately reflect the demographics of our country and be truly representative of all South Africans. In that way he shared CSA’s vision for cricket in this country.”

Greg Baum (SMH):

Roebuck was eccentric. He was a tall, spare, fit man who lived an austere, almost ascetic life, not indulging in such fripperies as deodorant. His trademark was a tatty straw hat with a wide brim. It was one of few possessions found in his hotel room. On anyone else, that hat would have been an absurd affectation.

ABC Grandstand manager Craig Norenbergs:

“For us he could describe a game of cricket in such a way that even if you didn’t like the game, you liked the way that he went about his business.”

Lawrence Booth, the editor of the Wisden Almanack:

“Cricket has lost one hell of an intellect and a bloke who cared deeply about the game. I always read Peter Roebuck with complete admiration.”

Simon Barnes (Times):

And as a writer, Roebuck was at times a fag-paper away from genius. His tormented nature, his combination of self-obsession and detachment made him good company and a terrific writer, but perhaps they helped to make day-to-day living a tricky business for him.

Simon Wilde (Sunday Times):

His style of writing was highly distinctive. He worked briefly alongside me for the Sunday Times in the early 2000s and once said that his approach was to start the day by writing down 10 “thoughts” – actually no more than one-off sentences of spiky opinion – that he intended to get into his piece come what may, regardless of whatever theme he might be given by the desk. And get them in, he did. This scatter-gun approach could be irritating, leaving the reader wishing he had pursued a particularly controversial or provocative statement further, but it was never dull. You never quite knew what the next paragraph would bring.

Mike Atherton (Times):

Fearlessness was his greatest attribute as a journalist and commentator, twin roles to which he turned after ending his playing career in 1991 and for which he will be principally remembered…

In only one respect did his professionalism let him down and that was when he came to write about England. He could never quite get over the bitterness of rejection, both as a player and a writer.
Accordingly, he viewed English cricket and England the same way. He considered them as coarse, having lost their way and in permanent decline — although the cricket played by the England team on their most recent tour to Australia forced him to soften his views somewhat. It was a shame, though, that he and the country of his birth were never reconciled.

As for that fearlessness:

His views were never more hotly-debated than when the Herald ran a front-page opinion piece in which Roebuck called for the sacking of Ricky Ponting as Australia captain following the acrimonious 2008 SCG Test against India.

Later he backtracked:

Time to shake the tree. Sacking the captain was the only story remotely dramatic enough to bring everything out into the open. And so the article was written. It had almost been sent earlier in the match but a fever had taken hold and the thought occurred that mood might have been affected. But the point was valid. The leadership had failed. And so the debate began … A nerve had been touched and the important matters were going to be addressed.

Roebuck was a successful player who became a successful writer. But what all journalists should tell you is that they write to earn a living and fill a space. Their employers just want them to entertain. Peter Roebuck entertained. He’s still filling media space. We have yet to learn how or why he died. And when we do it will be another story to comments on and entertain us…



Posted: 14th, November 2011 | In: Sports Comment | Follow the Comments on our RSS feed: RSS 2.0 | TrackBack | Permalink