Tangled Up In White – Reflections on the Passing of Peter Roebuck


For the last week I have been tempted to write about cricket – but who cares these days?  Corruption; meaningless space fillers for pay TV; the cosy self-interest of administrators, marketers and media; the decline of the first class competition inAustralia.  Brendan M, Skip and PJ had all said it more eloquently than me.


Last weekend ABC Grandstand advertised that “Jim Maxwell and Drew Morphett would be describing the Tests live fromCape TownandJohannesburg”.  Give me a break – the predictable and the enthusiast.  But still I turned on the car radio as I left work on Wednesday evening inPerth.  And immediately I was hooked.


Why hadn’t the ABC advertised that they would have Peter Roebuck doing the special comments?  He was erudite, urbane, informed, analytical and entertaining.  As always.


I was out of love with cricket.  But in love with cricket on the radio – as I have always been since the ten year old ‘hid’ the ‘portable’ radio (only two house bricks in size) under the blankets to follow my Ashes heroes long into a chilly Riverland night.


And especially in love with an expatriate Pom who engaged my intelligence, when so many commentators did their best to insult it.  Peter Roebuck loved cricket, but his inquiring mind seemed equally engaged with the mysteries of confidence, self belief, form, greed and doubt.  One minute I was on a cricket field – the next his inquiring gadfly mind had transported me to politics, business, personal relationships or the hundred other possibilities that make life both intriguing and maddening in equal proportion.


Like Brisbane and Adelaide, Perth has only Murdoch banality to rely on for daily journalism.  Many days when I only knew the bare bones of the cricket scoreboard, I would eagerly search the Age website for the Roebuck column that told me what was truly important amongst the minutiae of runs and wickets.  And why it was important – so I could sound informed when I engaged in the daily banter at the coffee machine or bar.


I read Roebuck’s books.  “Tangled Up in White” had more cross cultural metaphors than words in its title.  The autobiography spoke volumes.  The child is the father to the man.  Most sportsmen rush from the personal before it embarrasses them.  Roebuck spent chapters on the upbringing that shaped him while cricket was just the dreamy escape of hitting a ball against a wall.  A father who was the working class ‘clever lad’ trapped into a trade over education.


The post-war Trade Union scholarship that delivered his father a university degree and then a career as a ‘master’ in middle-ranking English private schools.  Where Peter and his siblings got a first-class education as second-class citizens.  It helped shape him as the clever, wary outsider always observing the foibles of those around him.


The Law Degree atCambridgewas less tempting than the life of a professional cricketer.  Where he rose to become one of the best 20 cricketers inEngland, but never one of the best 11.  As captain ofSomersethe harnessed the talents and egos of Botham, Viv Richards and Garner into a championship winning side.


The falling out with Richards was the measure of both his strengths and weaknesses.  Always the clear headed realist – Roebuck knew that Richards had reached the Ponting/Melba/Farnham stage of his career where reputation was exceeding performance.  The brilliant young New Zealander Martin Crowe was available butSomersethad no room for more overseas players.


Roebuck’s part in the sacking of Richards ensured the departure of Garner and the lasting enmity of an already jealous Botham.  An intellectual understands people but has problems relating to a person.


Roebuck’s love of the contest and challenge of cricket was told in the 10 years he spent withDevonin the Minor Counties after he had finished withSomerset.  Like a Parkin or Malthouse he was the hard working grafter who understood the nuance and detail of the game, and how much the ordinarily gifted player had to work to succeed.  He understood their fears, insecurities and motivations.


He leftEnglandbecause he found restrictive the remnants of a society based on the insider’s connections of class and school.  He chose the comparative meritocracy ofAustraliaandAfricaas his home.  He was a generous mentor of young African cricketers from deprived backgrounds, and founded a benevolent trust to further their education and sporting development.


He was scornful of those who wasted that time and opportunity, but always generously conceded the foibles and diversity of human nature.


Like many cricket lovers I greatly admired both his insights and humanity.  He told complex stories with a wit, clarity and charm that made me feel I was hearing the whispered asides of a generous sage.


How does cricket writing and commentary fill those shoes?  Having fallen out of love with cricket, I have now lost the best reason for loving cricket commentary.  Where will I go for the borrowed wisdom at coffee breaks in the coming summer?


Brendan, PJ and Skip have big shoes to fill.  Too big for any one man.  Peter Roebuck was a one-man Almanac.  Full of wisdom and compassion for cricket and cricketers.  A courageous renaissance man in a media writ small by marketing and self interest.


Thanks for sharing yourself so generously, and I am heart broken that you perhaps could not understand how much the love was reciprocated.




  1. John Butler says


    Insightful and passionate as always.

    Vale Roebuck.

  2. “The game is not the same without……..”

  3. pamela sherpa says

    Tragic news. Peter, you summed up perfectly why I enjoyed reading Peter Roebuck’s articles-“He engaged out intelligence rather than insulting it” It was eerie to read the last two lines of his last article yesterday- “A lot can happen in a week. It just did.”

  4. Peter B – first class summary

  5. Without wishing to make light of a most unfortunate situation it was a Roebuck exit that left no one in doubt. He certainly did not sit on the fence.

  6. luckymagpie says

    Peter B, great summary, I too feel the same way about the great game of test cricket.
    The one saviour was the insights and observations of Peter Roebuck.
    Who will ‘tell it like it is’ now?
    You will be sadly missed by many :(

  7. Excellent, Peter.

    R.I.P. P. Roebuck

  8. I can recall Peter Roebuck talking at length about some of the tragic figures in cricket during a break in play. Bobby Peel, Albert Trott and Chuck Fleetwood-Smith. What a shame he became one of them.

  9. John Kingsmill says

    Lovely piece.

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