Master of words
Sports broadcaster TRACEY HOLMES pays a tribute to Peter Roebucks
The words are many, their impact inadequate. Describing Peter Roebuck needs the genius of Shakespeare or Mozart, the colour of Van Gogh. In some ways, to be the best requires a tortured soul. The despair gives an insight that eludes others. To then have the brilliance to create understanding in others simply highlights even more the solitary world he inhabited.
Roebuck was not a ‘sports’ writer or broadcaster. Anyone who thinks so is missing the most important part of his work. Peter had a rare ability to pick out the beating heart of a cricket match and use its momentary significance to describe the world we live in.
The poles of poverty and affluence in India, the impossible choice between violence or corruption in Pakistan, the underlying tide of racism in Australia, not seen by most Australians but perceived by many others…this is what Roebuck saw in the way players played.
His words were well chosen. They carried hidden depth. Yet as his broadcasting with the ABC showed, he didn’t ponder over their selection, they were immediate and perfect. Roebuck was a master of words. In the same way that Tendulkar tirelessly practiced stroke after stroke to perfect the cricket shot, or Federer the tennis return, Roebuck spent many hours in his solitary life perfecting his craft.
His followers worldwide tuned in for him, searched the web for his writings and after each day’s play, eagerly awaited his analysis. Yet who amongst us knew him? A Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1988, captain of Somerset, author, commentator and a private man whose mastery of words can only come from one who spends many hours debating in his own mind, fighting with opposing thoughts, searching for the clearest path through, finding the essence of ideas.
Peter Roebuck had residences in England, Australia and South Africa, but was at home nowhere. What he sought outwardly could only be found inwardly so he took his own personal journey with him, on cricket tour after cricket tour. Delighting us with his descriptions, his insights and his deep understanding of the game and the men who played it.
His website carries links to his writings for the Sydney Morning Herald, The Age and ESPN cricinfo. His stories reveal his intellect and insight, but more telling is the link to ‘extended family’. A photo gallery of the people he was most proud of in life. Not his blood relatives, but his chosen family.
Young men whom in other circumstances might only have been a statistic. Violent backgrounds, some orphaned, most in poverty. In them Peter found an outlet for the most basic human craving outside food, clothing and shelter, that is, to love and be loved. He paid for their schooling, sent them to university, was there when they graduated and created opportunities that destiny tried to deny them. Like a proud dad, Peter stands between their beaming faces. Young men who now have a future where previously none existed. Peter helped give them that.
Yes, Peter had issues. We all have issues. Yet his remarkable intellect allowed him to take complex human and societal issues and boil them down to a description of a cricket match. That was Peter’s over riding passion. Reflecting us to ourselves so in some way we could all make better sense of the world and our place in it.
As for many of his avid readers and listeners around the world, no cricket match will ever mean quite so much for me again without Peter’s analysis.
Like a cake without icing, so is cricket without Peter Roebuck.
May he rest in peace.