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A loner with a gift for cricket and words

Monday, 14th November, 2011

‘UNCONVENTIONAL’: Cricketer and writer, Peter Roebuck. ‘UNCONVENTIONAL’: Cricketer and writer, Peter Roebuck.

 SYDNEY - The playing career of celebrated cricket writer Peter Roebuck, who died on the weekend, was defined by a spectacular falling out with superstars Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Joel Garner.

 The Fairfax and ABC Radio commentator enjoyed a long county cricket career from 1974-91, but it was his stint as captain of glamour side Somerset that created headlines.

 The rift with Botham never mended, even when a tabloid journalist set up a bogus meeting between the pair after Roebuck had announced his retirement. No one had told Botham.

 Amidst claims of partying and drug use, the larger than life England all-rounder was removed from the captaincy at Somerset and replaced by Roebuck after a disastrous 1985 season.

 “By the end of the season Caligula’s horse could have beaten (Botham) for the captaincy,” Roebuck wrote in his autobiography ‘Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh’ in 2004. “In some opinions, it did.”

 When Roebuck backed a club committee decision to release West Indies stars Richards and Garner, Botham was furious, reportedly pinning the word Judas to Roebuck’s place in the change room before walking out on the side in 1986.

 “The cost has been enormous,” Roebuck wrote of the feud.

 “Of course I did not expect to survive such a controversy for long. It was not a career move.”

 Roebuck was found dead, aged 55, on Saturday at a hotel in Cape Town, where he had been covering the Test series between South Africa and Australia.

 He was born in Oxford in 1956, the son of two school teachers and one of six children.

 A dour opening batsman, he played 335 first class matches, averaging 37.27, and captained an England one-day side in a humiliating loss to Holland.

 He held a law degree from Cambridge and coached cricket at exclusive Sydney school Cranbrook.

 After his playing days he divided his time between homes in Sydney and Pietermaritzberg, South Africa, and became an Australian citizen.

 Regarded by many as eccentric, Roebuck’s insight into cricket and its politics, and his gift for words, were legendary.

 He divided opinions when he called for Australian skipper Ricky Ponting to be sacked following a racism row in a 2008 Test against India in Sydney.

 His post-cricket life was also not without controversy.

 In 2001 he received a three-month suspended sentence after pleading guilty to low level assault for caning three teenage players he was coaching.

 He vigorously defended his relationship with young cricketers.

 “I cannot waste time on accusers who have never produced a player or a young man worth tuppence, and who never will,” he wrote. “I stand by my overall record with young people.”

 Roebuck used a piece written by his father as the epilogue to his autobiography, saying it might “enlighten or amuse”.

 “In orthodox spheres Peter might be regarded as odd, whereas he is merely obscure and oblique,” it reads.

 “He is an unconventional loner, with an independent outlook on life, an irreverent sense of humour and sometimes a withering tongue.”

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