Sunday, November 13, 2011

Mind You, a Lot can happen in a Week ....

The last post on this blog talked about the extraordinary goings-on on Day 2 of the South Africa vs Australia Test match in Capetown last week. I can’t recall a day quite like it ever in the 50 years of my cricketing memory.

South Africa went into lunch on 49 for 1, and the story goes that their coach, Gary Kirsten then left the ground to visit his wife and third child who had been born a day or so before. He returned after three or four hours, midway through the evening session, to find his team on 72 for 1. Wondering whether there had been rain at the ground which had restricted his side to a paltry 23 runs since he’d been away, he found out that he’d missed 20 wickets and two complete innings.

I only hope that’s a true story!

The next day the pundits on Sky TV were Rob Key and Dominic Cork, both very good ex-England players. Even after a night to ruminate on the sensational day’s play neither of them could offer a real explanation of why such a spectacular implosion had occurred, and on Day 3 the match went on with centuries for both Amla and Smith, and in the end, South Africa won easily.

Later that day, I looked at my Twitter feed to see what the cricketing world had made of it all, and alighted on a report from an Australian writer I followed. His few paragraphs analysed it perfectly simply and logically. A difficult, but not impossible pitch, some classy bowling from the South Africans and a complete abrogation of the defensive and strategic fundamentals of playing the game from most of the Australian team, allied to an increasingly lemming like sense of panic down their batting order. The piece was at the same time deceptively simple, accurate, logical, incisive, perceptive, well-argued and beautifully written. In impeccable English, it addressed, dissected and answered the questions Key and Cork couldn’t.

The writer was an ex-Somerset player who captained England once. After his career ended, he upped sticks and settled in Australia, becoming one of the most outspoken, intelligent and thoughtful writers on the subject, a man with a real conscience. His name was Peter Roebuck, and I thought he was one of the best cricket writers on the planet. To me, his articles and books were something special.

One of his books
A few hours after witnessing this extraordinary day and writing this piece, he threw himself off the sixth floor of his hotel and killed himself. No doubt the reasons will come out in time, although I can’t say I really want to know. His beautiful writing is over, and for me, that is that.

For almost 100 years, the number of people involved in the game who have taken their own lives is horribly high. Men who have played the game at the highest level like Stoddart, Shrewsbury, Gimblett, Robertson-Glasgow, Bairstow, Trott, Iverson, Barnes all ended their own lives. And now Peter Roebuck joins that ghastly list. Does the game create conditions in men’s minds which ferment and develop a sense of despair or hopelessness resulting in suicide? Or is it the sort of game which tends to attract the melancholic and introspective - individuals who end it all with a gun, a noose or a box of pills? I simply don’t know.

All I know is one minute you’re reading an article thinking “Spot on Peter, Nail on the head again”, and the next thing you hear is that he’s gone. It’s all desperately sad. The closing words in the last article he wrote on the day he died were “Mind You, a lot can happen in a week.”

Right again, Peter.


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