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.

Goodbye Ricky Ponting

Finally Ricky has gone. It was a resignation as inevitable as the onset of summer, and certainly increases the heat on Michael Clarke. Now is the right time, Australian cricket needs to move forward, and dragging the side for the last few years as captain, surrogate coach, agony aunt and kitman too has had a visible effect on Australia’s most successful batsman of recent times.

Ponting has been an inspiration to his own country and beyond. Observing him close up during the Ashes it was impossible not to be mesmerised by a face so creased from years of battle, a man so dignified and honest in response to constant probing and sniping.

The question now is whether he should stay on in the team as a batsman, as he has indicated he wants to do. Michael Clarke said in December he would never captain Ponting, we will find out in the next few weeks and months how sincere those words were.

Ponting’s record over the last few years is not befitting of his reputation and hardly worth a place in the side – in 16 Tests since the end of the 2009 Ashes he has one hundred (209 against Pakistan in which he was dropped in single figures) at an average of 36.

The counter-argument to that would be that his selfless involvement in trying to arrest the losing culture in a new Australian side stopped him from spending enough time working on a batting technique that was struggling to cope with the ageing process. His supporters pointed to his gritty quarter-final hundred against India as evidence of what he could do when allowed to focus on cricket in the short term. With Sachin Tendulkar batting better than ever and a year older than Ponting, the case for allowing Ponting a chance to fulfil his wish is persuasive.

But there are other things to consider. Ponting’s hold over this Australian team has been total in recent years. In the Sydney press conferences Michael Clarke as good as admitted that Ponting had been acting as coach on top of his captaincy role (another indictment of the apparently invisible Tim Nielsen). How can a player who has exercised that much influence slip quietly into the ranks? Further to this, the distance between Ponting and some of the younger members of the Australian side was obvious during the Ashes. Respect is clearly there (at least in one direction) but camaraderie? Australia needs the Peter Siddles, the Steve Smiths and the Shane Watsons to become their new ‘guns’. Can they do this with the ghost of the past watching and judging their every move?

And what of Ponting’s relationship with Clarke – who rumours would have us believe has been attempting to undermine the man in possession in recent times. The whole thing is a right kerfuffle, stretching beyond this down to Clarke’s 26% popularity rating among the Aussie public. Having a new captain who the country’s press already hold in contempt is quite a situation. Even with the metres of negative press that have greeted England’s World Cup performances we can afford to glance down under and smile.

It’s all over now, England win 3-1, Sydney, day five

From Sam Collins in Sydney

END OF THE ASHES: fifth Test, day five, Sydney
Match score: England 644 (Cook 189, Prior 118, Bell 115) beat Australia 281 (Smith 54*) and 280 by an innings and 83 runs to win series 3-1
Session score: Australia 68-3 England win
Session in six words: England’s 24-year wait is over

It’s been a victory party more protracted than a royal wedding, but this morning England finally got their hands on the Ashes in Australia. An innings-and-83 run victory here secured a 3-1 victory, their first since Mike Gatting’s team in 1986-87, but it is no so much the series win as the margin and the manner that are so impressive. If this was a football match they would say it could have been 10 – all England’s victories were by an innings and the figures didn’t flatter them.

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Anderson takes England to the brink, Sydney, day four

Ho hum. The Sydney Morning Herald

Close: fifth Test, day four, Sydney
Match score: Australia 213-2 (Smith 19*, Siddle 4*) and 280 (Johnson 53) trail England 644 by 151 runs with eight second innings wickets remaining
Session score: Australia 136-5 England win
Session in six words: Anderson and Tremlett superb for England

Alastair Cook will be the man of this series, 766 runs in seven innings demands that but Jimmy Anderson deserves a mention. The man who couldn’t bowl in Australia has, well, he’s shown that he can bowl in Australia, and do it bloody well. The wickets of Usman Khawaja and Michael Clarke this evening took him to 23 for the series, eight more than the next man Mitchell Johnson. Continue reading