Roebuck: ‘one of the finest cricket writers’

2011-11-14 00:00

PETER Roebuck, the long-serving Witness columnist and one of the world’s leading cricket writers and authors, committed suicide in a hotel room in Cape Town late on Saturday night for reasons that are still under investigation.

Roebuck was in Cape Town to cover the first Test between South Africa and Australia at Newlands.

The 55-year-old Roebuck had homes in Pietermaritzburg and in Australia where he wrote for the Sydney Morning Herald and the Melbourne Age while commentating for the ABC.

He has written a regular column for the Witness weekender over the past decade and his column appeared in the Weekend Witness this past Saturday.

He was a fierce critic of Robert Mugabe and his Zimbabwean regime. He assisted and supported a host of Zimbabwean students who had fled their country to study at the local university.

He established the LBW Trust in Sydney in June 2006 to fund the tertiary education of students in developing countries.

Roebuck played for Somerset from 1974-91, captained the team from 1986 and was caught in the middle of a public furore that resulted in cricketing legends Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner leaving the county.

Respected English cricket writer Christopher Martin-Jenkins described Roebuck as a “formidable intellectual” who came close to being a captain of England “in the Mike Brearley mould”.

BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew tweeted early yesterday: “My God. Just heard about Peter Roebuck. Loved working with him. Incisive. Erudite. Funny.”

Roebuck moved to the KwaZulu-Natal Midlands 10 years ago, living near Albert Falls Dam before moving to Scottsville two years ago where he shared his home with a number of Zimbabwean students.

Former Witness sports editor John Bishop said yesterday that Roebuck, keen to become involved in life in the Midlands, had eagerly grasped the opportunity of writing for the newspaper.

“Over the past decade he has brightened the pages of the Weekend Witnes. He was a complex individual, a loner, but no one can doubt his quality as a writer and commentator. Entertaining, intelligent, bold and incisive, he was regarded as one of the world’s finest and most respected cricket writers.”

Ian Fuge, managing editor at the Sydney Morning Herald, said Roebuck’s death was “a devastating blow, both professionally and personally”.

“Peter was a wonderful writer who was the bard of summer for cricket-loving Australians,” he said.

Paul Ramadge, editor-in-chief of The Age, said Roebuck’s death was a massive blow to lovers of cricket writing.

“In every generation of sports writers usually someone stands up as an exceptional talent. When it came to commentary on cricket, Peter Roebuck was that talent of his generation,” Ramadge said.

“He was an exceptional writer. His prose will be sorely missed by cricket followers across the world.”

Cricket South Africa (CSA) CEO Gerald Majola said the governing body had heard with great shock and sadness of Roebuck’s sudden passing.

“CSA has lost a good friend,” commented Majola. “He was a fierce critic of South African cricket in the unhappy days of the rebel tours, but he made a personal tour of South Africa after the completion of the unity process and the establishment of the United Cricket Board of South Africa.”

In his autobiography Sometimes I forgot To Laugh, Roebuck’s father says of him: “In orthodox spheres, Peter might be regarded as odd, whereas he is merely obscure and oblique. He is an unconventional loner, with an independent outlook on life, an irreverent sense of humour and sometimes a withering tongue.”

In his diary of a season It Never Rains, Roebuck reflected upon how strange it was “that cricket attracts so many insecure men”.

“It is surely the very worst game for an intense character, yet it continues to find many obtuse sensitivities among its players,” he said. “Men of imagination, men of ideals risk its harsh exposures.” He was known for wearing his trademark straw sunhat at all times, even in the commentary box.

Roebuck was named as a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1988.

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