Peter Roebuck's ordered passion for cricket


Peter RoebuckAlthough I never met him, I heard of the death of Peter Roebuck with a sense of shock and loss. I enjoyed his cricket writing, and also appreciated his contribution on other topics to Eureka Street through his articles and postings. He seemed to understand and appreciate the moral centre that we try to encourage. 

Although speculation about the circumstances of his death inevitably colours reflection on his life, it should not overshadow his gifts and qualities as person and as writer. 

As a cricket writer Roebuck was interesting even when he wrote on topics that had no interest for the reader. In that respect he was like Martin Flanagan and Brent Crosswell in their writing on Australian Rules. Like them, he clearly appreciated that other things in life matter more than sport. But precisely because sport does not matter ultimately, he was freed to take it very seriously indeed. It was a part of life, and was so invested with the values and the daily choices that reveal a person's character. For him cricket was an image of life, and so to be respected.

Because he had a keen sense of what mattered both ultimately and relatively, Roebuck wrote about cricket lightly and with passion. He had a lightness of touch in the illuminating connections that he made between cricket and other things. In contrast to John Arlott, who revealed the aesthetic charms of cricket by comparison with high culture, he developed its connections with the ordinary experiences of daily life. He showed the unconscious humour in serious games of cricket and the humanity of those who played it. 

Peter Roebuck was also passionate. Because cricket was an image of life, he believed that its craft should be taken seriously. It was a discipline and a form of self-control through which people grew. He had no time for sloppiness, and often seemed offended by people with instinctive talent that they left uncultivated.

The passion most frequently expressed in his writing was anger. It was aroused most often when he perceived bullying and submission to it. He frequently attacked the International Cricket Council for its reluctance to condemn the thugs who ran Zimbabwe cricket, and for accepting supinely the power of Indian financial interests on the regulation of cricket. Sometimes his perception of bullying seemed harsh, as when he attacked the Australian team for an aggressive gamesmanship that in his opinion amounted to cheating. Ironically, it now seems that some of the Pakistani cricketers may have out-cheated the Australians to procure this victory.

In his Eureka Street articles on Zimbabwe Roebuck gave his anger full reign. In 2007 he wrote, 'Towering rage is the only legitimate reaction to the latest outrage in the benighted, despoiled, corrupted, starving, bankrupt nation known as Zimbabwe'.

Of course the West had it coming. Hardly a harsh word has heard in the mid 80s when Mugabe's fifth brigade crushed an imagined uprising in Matabeleland, slaughtering tens of thousands of mostly Ndebeles, stuffing their corpses down disused gold mines. At around the same time the Sinhalese were murdering the Tamils in Colombo as the government turned a blind eye. No-one said much about that either.' 

Such strong feelings tempered by and equally strong self-control make for a tension that can be explosive if it is kept within. That seems to have been Peter Robuck's way and his burden. Although we do not know the details of his personal life, all we do know of him invites compassion for a man who fought for justice and admiration for one who translated his anger at what was happening in Zimbabwe into the establishment of an educational foundation for young people there.

Roebuck's postings for Eureka Street show a breadth of interest and sympathy. He responded to articles on Syria, Zimbabwe, asylum seeker and refugee issues in Australia, Indonesia, Afghanistan and pieces of creative writing. In most cases, he addressed issues of fairness and respect for difference.

In his postings he also encouraged the writers of the articles, particularly younger writers, and on occasion Eureka Street itself. In his most recent posting a few weeks ago on Syria, he typically both offered his views and sought more information.

'As an avowed democrat convinced that the secular path is the way forwards but aware that it takes time and that democracy rarely enjoys an easy birth or growing period (who does?) I am keen to read balanced views of the position in Syria. Till then long live democracy everywhere! It's the best thing we've got, the best check on corruption. The Arab uprising was needed because fearful old men refused to cede power. It happens elsewhere as well, especially further south.'

With Peter Roebuck's death, we have lost a good supporter, a valued contributor and a human being who gave much through all the hidden struggle with his personal flaws and pressures.

Andrew HamiltonAndrew Hamilton is consulting editor of Eureka Street. 

Topic tags: Andrew Hamilton, Peter Roebuck, Cricket, South Africa, Zimbabwe, journalism



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Existing comments

many thanks Andy, the untimely death of Peter Roebuck is a great loss. He also made a great contribution through his charitable work. Somehow a test match without his enjoyable articles or incisive radio commentary will not be same.

Kerry Murphy | 15 November 2011  

Peter Roebuck was a feisty, highly intelligent man who spoke cleanly and wrote with a beautiful verbosity. Most importantly for a journalist, he thought and communicated without fear or favour. It's ironic, perhaps, considering his lifelong passion for cricket, that his greatest gifts were a forthright foresight and a shrewd insight, rather than a pull shot or lofted drive.

Roebuck's love of the game and what it stands for (or stood for, more accurately) prompted his valiant rearguard pursuit of justice and transparency. If the man had feet of clay, as we all do, then I say woe and shame unto any pharisees who choose to revel in his flawed humanity. It's not our role to judge, nor is it our job to sneer and feel false superiority at other lives lived. It is my understanding that he never set himself out to be a saint, and he never revealed his personal struggles or wrestling.

Roebuck will be a presence much missed, throughout many summers to come. His brooding intellect and outbursts of happiness made cricket a richer game to watch and cherish.

Barry G | 15 November 2011  

Yes, BARRY G. I suspect there are many scrupulous and righteous keepers of the law who think they know God but do not love God, and are therefore not entering the Kingdom as I believe Peter is.

AURELIUS | 15 November 2011  

Andrew may be right in saying that 'sport does not matter ultimately' but meanwhile it consumes a lot of our time and effort - and deserves some critical examination.
Dealing with just one aspect, there now seems to be inordinate emphasis on winning, with grown men in tears after a loss by the narrowest of margins.
We seem to have forgotten the words of Pierre de Coubertin, the founder of the modern Olympics: "The important thing is not to win but to compete".

Bob Corcoran | 15 November 2011  

Yes, BARRY G. I suspect there are many scrupulous and righteous keepers of the law who think they know God but do not love God, and are therefore not entering the Kingdom as I believe Peter is.

AURELIUS | 15 November 2011  

At present, only allegations and rumours are being reported about Peter Roebuck. He must be given the benefit of any doubt until proof is produced. However, if he were Fr Peter Roebuck, would we still be so keen to eulogise him and overlook his foibles? Would his employer not already have been called to give account of what it knew of his activities? We must apply the same standards to all. We cannot blithely dismiss any sexual predation by Peter Roebuck, if there was any, as just a manifestation of his flawed humanity. His cultured English accent and superior skills with the pen do not give him a free pass. Many people were prepared to overlook Roman Polanski's drugging and sodomizing of a young girl simply because he was a great artist. Such double standards should not be tolerated.

Patrick James | 15 November 2011  

well spoken.
We are all passionate about things at times, even though sometimes our lives may be like those of other hypocrites.

None of us is infallible and we live as best we can sometimes doing things others do not agree with, yet at the same time speaking out in actions and in words which are sometimes misplaced.

PHIL | 15 November 2011  

Sexual orientation is the last bastion of human rights we need to grapple with before we can become fully human. Until societies and religions come to terms with the benign nature of our human sexuality, people like Peter Roebuck will continue on paths of supression which ultimately leads to self-destruction. We have seen Apartheid toppled, we have seen women gain equal rights - the final taboo is homosexuality.

AURELIUS | 16 November 2011  

Thanks for this Andy. I shall miss the sound of Peter Roebuck's voice this summer. His neat, precise voice in contrast with the drawl of the Australian commentators. He was the sort of commentator who elevated cricket to something more. Certainly made it more engaging for someone like me who's not all that keen. Very sad...

Clare | 16 November 2011  

You're right about Mugabe's crimes in the '80's being overlooked. That's because the mainstream media back then - as now - was dominated by left-wing writers and reporters. In Australia, it was only the right wing 'Quadrant', and B A Santamaria's 'News Weekly' which warned against the Marxist Mugabe and his goons - from back in the 1970's, indeed. Their warnings were universally laughed off or ignored. But of course, there has been no soul-searching about this from the left, because being left means never having to admit you're wrong.

HH | 21 November 2011  

Isn't it a great pity that God created us human. We could expect him to have known better!!! So many problems (human ones) could have been avoided and we would have had no difficulty in attaining that life that God would deem to be ideal according to those who administer His earthly domain.

john frawley | 24 November 2011  


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