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RIP Peter Roebuck

November 14, 2011

Peter Roebuck’s death has hit me far harder than the death of any public figure whose work I admire. I have never met Roebuck, but have greatly admired his written word and cricket commentary.

My mind has been abuzz with grief which I’ve channelled against those in the media – mostly media – who have tried to wrongly extrapolate discreet chunks of details and history into grubby smear, plus dog whistle pedophile. To those I can say if you know Roebuck had undertaken anything illegal in terms of sexual abuse anyone, you should have taken it to the police when he was alive. You should speak to the South African Police now.

But they are trolling, of course, and my anger is merely grief for the loss of a writer I greatly admired. I grew up watching the Nine cricket coverage, but it’s continual fawning of Shane Warne and creeping commercialism drove me to the ABC, back when Keith Stackpole used to comment. But I remember one Ashes Boxing Day test, driving cross-country towards the place of my birth, listening to Aggers and Roebuck discussing the play.

Was this the series when Thorpe and Hick continued to pat Warne’s leg breaks back down the pitch over after over to the destruction to me of cricket as a form of entertainment? Was this when Gatting scored a century at the age of 40, the series when England should have won the Sydney test but for bad light. I can’t quite remember, but I remember the radio commentary: witty, descriptive, passionate. Where Nine commented without description – why describe when you can see the action – the radio gave you the emotional context, the thrill, the drama. And Roebuck gave me the world in which this game existed. Cricket is rich with history – and all commentary has ex-players sharing amusing stories of their glory days – but Roebuck put this into a context of where the game was now. He saw it as a game – a noble game which meant more than winning and losing. He may have been an old fashion romanticist in terms of cricket with a touch of Greek drama thrown in for good measure, but he also realised cricket was part of real life and had to exist in that context.

This was why I agreed with his assessment on the sacking of Ponting in 2008. Ponting led the remnants of a glorious period of Australian cricket dogged by claims of arrogance and unsporting behaviour. And that arrogance had to stop. And to his immense credit it was Ponting who did more than anyone to stop it as seen in his interviews on the next tour of England. But I feel it took an outsider’s view – that of Roebuck, to bring home to the team exactly how it behaved and the discomfort many cricket fans felt towards our own national team.

That story was typical of Roebuck in the seeing the good of the game was more important than individual reputations, because reputations should naturally follow good cricket, and decline with bad. He saw folly in the increase in meaningless 20/20 matches preventing young crickets from gaining experience in longer cricket. He saw a grade match as more important than a money raising hit and giggle, railed against young players been plucked form the former to feed to the latter. In this he saw the very essence of the decline of our Test team. Watching Haddin again getting out while trying to play the shorter version of the game in the context of Test Match shows how damaging the malaise of the short forms have become. Others also shared Roebuck’s concerns but Roebuck was the most succinct: the most blunt.

I will miss this refreshing view of our cricket. In a week when Australian cricket is still fawning over Shane Warne at 42, we lose someone who cared deeply about the game’s present and future. Someone who reminded ABC listeners of what was happening in Zimbabwe, Kenya, and Afghanistan, and how important it was to spread the game away from the money pots.

Why isn’t Australia playing Zimbabwe in a test series anytime soon? Why are Australia-Bangladesh Test matches cancelled for one-dayers when England happily hosted them at Lords, and their players now adorn the famous board of century maker at the ground? Why isn’t this series against South African a three Test series? Though others have asked these questions recently, it is Roebuck who originally taught me to ask such questions myself. The ABC host lost two of their greatest agitators in exit of Glenn Mitchell and the death of Peter Roebuck. I will listen to the coverage this summer, with Jim and Kerry, Geoff and Hasha – it is still the best radio of the year – but it won’t be the same.

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