RIP Peter Roebuck

It’s pretty screwed up that someone’s suicide can make for such an interesting few days of cricket reading.

Inevitably cricket writing is a bit like family reunions – too many people only really show up (in the performance sense) for weddings or funerals. As cricket writers I suppose our weddings are big events like the Ashes, a World Cup final or a plucky good luck story, the funerals a seismic defeat, a resignation or a spot-fixing trial. Rarely is it a death in the literal sense. And nothing makes you remember what a load of nothingness cricket is like death.

One of the often-spouted clichés is that cricket is such a great game because it is so revealing of human character, a metaphor for life. The implication is that cricket in itself doesn’t matter, it just relates to things that do. Maybe that’s why we all cling to the personal details of the game – the characters, the friendships, the feuds – they make cricket more consequential than a 90-mph yorker or a 111-metre six ever can. Maybe that’s why those eulogies were so gripping.

I never met Peter Roebuck, but there was no danger of not hearing all about him when Down Under last winter, he was often the go-to story for the press-box gossips. I’ve heard all manner of tales about him from former colleagues on and off the pitch. Some were silly, some scurrilous – too many of us laughed along or passed them on. It’s difficult to reconcile this with the tributes flowing from every social media crevice over the last few days, but maybe when people spend their lives watching a game, it takes a death to make them think a little.

What else can you take from a load of very different eulogies? Some very human writers are wasted on match reports? Confirmation that often the most stand out people, the most individual, are that way because their minds tread darker passageways than the rest of us?

In a strange way perhaps anyone with ambitions to scribble should see Roebuck’s death as reaffirming – beyond his private life it puts the spotlight on what made his writing great. It reminds anyone who has ever picked up a newspaper and put it down in disgust 12 seconds later that it’s ok to have a different point of view, that it’s possible that the majority are the ones in the wrong, content in their complacency.

Of course to push through that unique train of thought you have to be prepared to disagree, to argue, to be outrageously stubborn and at times even more wrong – qualities that only the fortunate can retain and still be the centre of a crowd.

It’s an uncomfortable generalisation to say people who commit suicide are cowards. We can’t know what tormented Roebuck’s mind before he jumped, but we know that at least in his cricketing dealings he had a spine, knew how to stand up for his beliefs. Check your twitter feeds this afternoon, see how many journalists you can spot moaning about the ICCs Test Championship decision. If even half of them had Roebuck’s conviction to properly champion a cause then maybe cricket wouldn’t be in the trouble it is.


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