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A year on, Peter Roebuck will be missed forever

On the anniversary of the esteemed cricket writer's death, Vimal Kumar reflects on a life lost.

Vimal Kumar |IBN7 |November 12, 2012, 11:01 AM IST
A year on, Peter Roebuck will be missed forever

This Diwali will be not the same like yesteryear's. For the last few years, my mailbox was used to receiving a special Diwali greeting from a foreigner. But, that foreigner was not a just a mere acquaintance. He was a great writer, a fine philosopher, nice human being and above all a sort of Dronacharya who inspired many Eklavyas across the world.

I won't be getting his greeting this year. Sadly, I will never get his greeting ever in my life. He is no more. Tragically, his first death anniversary comes on the eve of the Diwali. It's been exactly a year since Peter Roebuck allegedly committed suicide in his hotel room in South Africa. Like life, cricket doesn't stop too. The show must go on as they say and it's been going on but the most profound voice of cricket is being missed all the time.

Borrowing his words from various articles, I would say he was a friend of mine; actually, he was everyone's friend whoever met him in his journey. Throughout his life, he had remained resolutely optimistic and apologetically forthright. He cared about the young journalists around him and that counts for a lot.

"Mere death does not bestow nobility, let alone sanctity," Roebuck once wrote philosophically. Doubtless, cricket has been poorer without Roebuckism we all were quite used to. The eagerness of reading his articles in Sydney Morning Herald is gone. Cricinfo has not got anyone half as good as Roebuck. Many publications across the continents lament the absence of such an articulate voice.

"Nothing is sadder than the extinguishing of a young life. Besides the loss itself, and the pain that follows, the premature ending of a life serves as shock, reminds of the fragility and foolishness of our existences...It is absurd that we take ourselves and our lives seriously when it all hangs by a thread. Yet it is likewise foolish to waste gifts, for they carry with them a certain responsibility."

How ironic if you were to think the way Roebuck himself departed.

But, Roebuck's writing was not merely contemporary or original but forever relevant. Last week, the former India captain Mohammad Azharuddin got a big relief by the Andhra Pradesh High Court on his life ban imposed by the BCCI. A Roebuck piece from the past could have been reproduced as it is. "Cricket teaches its practitioners to forget about the last ball and to think about the next one. Man himself deserves the same opportunity. Azhar's past is irrelevant. He, too, must be treated upon his current merits."

A great admirer of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King Jr, and Bob Dylan among others, Roebuck often quoted famous American writer Grahame Green's philosophy. His sudden and mysterious departure from the world gave rise to many conspiracy theories. Some observers have also written about his personal life and they don't read nice. As a Roebuck admirer, I will use his words when he argued for Hansie Cronje if the allegations against him were found to be true.

"No will ever know the full story. Given time, he might have repaired his reputation. No one will ever know. Others cannot act on his behalf....But his strong points deserve recognition. Mature societies realize that the world is not divided into heroes and villains and that every man and every nation endures struggle between the forces of light and dark. Cronje deserves neither our contempt nor uncritical admiration."

Roebuck often quoted Greene saying that, 'Man is not always black and white. More black and grey really.' He often wrote that some men cannot be subdivided. They must be taken as a whole. Roebuck surely was one such man.

In his book It Takes All Sorts, before introducing the chapters on the likes of Bob Simpson, Sourav Ganguly, Arjuna Ranatunga and others, Roebuck says that they are significant cricketing figures burdened with mixed reputations. In his case, the same should be applied as Roebuck ironically argued that the readers must decide for themselves whether these servants of the game deserve to be seen in a better light.

Perhaps, Roebuck sensed that his departure was too not far away. In his autobiography, Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh, he has closed the book with these immortal lines which we all can use for him. "Alas, the dismayed will continue to take their lives for it is all more fragile than it appears. All a man can is find a niche for himself and then make the best of it. There is still a lot be done."

Peter may not have been a saint but certainly did not for once pretend to be. Cut down in the prime of his life, we feel that our lives have been cheapened by his absence. Peter was not a failure; he was a roaring success. He wrote some fine prose, brightened a lot of lives and ought to have lived longer. Peter will be remembered wherever there is an urge to read some fine prose on cricket, not least in India with its emotions and fondness for his Roebuckism. Cricket has known great men and fine writers, but there has been, and can be, only one Roebuck.

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