Cricket produces one of a kind eccentrics that no other sport provides. Think of Brent “Billy” Bowden, the NZ umpire, Colin “Funky” Miller, Greg Matthews, even Stuart MacGill. People who are thinkers. People who don’t addle their brain with spending much too much times in gymnasiums with sport scientists, “shaping” their bodies into perfect specimens. Instead, some have time to read and to think.
Peter Roebuck was that kind of figure. As a cricketer, as a man and as a commentator. I only knew him as a sound on my radio and as words on a page – words that I found myself in either furious agreement or disagreement. Or just aghast at the latest breathtakingly bad simile or metaphor. As a broadcaster, though, I loved his contrarian and outsider status, saying things about the game that needed to be said. He was a frequent and outspoken critic of Ricky Ponting’s woeful captaincy of Australia long before it became a chorus.
Cricket has also produced the best sport journalism any sport has to offer. This is because it really is a game that reveals character and thinking, rather than just brute force and rote learnt strategy. Back in the day I was a history student at university, I really wanted to look at cricket writing back in Neville Cardus’ day, right through to Tiger Bill O’Reilly’s gruff and blunt work in the 80s. I didn’t have the guts to do that – but I think there should be a look at the continuum of cricket writing, from Cardus to Roebuck, who with Mike Coward and Gideon Haigh, are (now were, in the case of Roebuck) this generation’s finest cricket writers in Australia.
Roebuck, however, unlike Coward and Haigh, was able to create sensations and intense conversation about his views, which is a good thing for all of those who love cricket and the issues it raises. And that is why the cricket world needed him. I remember having many conversations about Roebuck with the online friend who is now my partner. In her words, Roebuck represented, in terms of cricket, the “anti-bogan” view of cricket – as in, he posited an intellectual, sensitive attitude that questioned the harsh arrogance that has gripped elements of the Australian cricket community in the past decade.
We know that Roebuck stood aside from the usual view of what a cricket community member should do and spent a deal of his time helping Southern African cricketers and this side of his life will, I suspect, be a part of intense scrutiny in the coming weeks. His altruism and genuinely giving nature in that work may well get swamped by innuendo and the like, consider the nature of our media and its grubbier operatives. That is not what I will remember Peter Roebuck for. As I listened to ABC Grandstand highlights from his career, I found it very hard not to cry uncontrollably. I can’t imagine what it would be like for people whose lives he enriched through his friendship. I will remember him as one of our greatest commentators and thinkers about the game of cricket. Vale Peter Roebuck. Apart from anything else, you made straw hat wearing fashionable.