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Kersi Meher-Homji

Peter Roebuck: a classy writer, and a friend

A bouncer from Jeff Thomson on my (non-helmeted) head in the 1970s would not have knocked me down as painfully as a phone call from The Roar’s Bayman yesterday morning.

It was then I was given me the tragic news of Peter Roebuck, my favourite cricket writer and a friend.

I have three heroes among authors; PG Wodehouse the English humorist, Ray Robinson the Australian cricket writer and Peter Roebuck.

Peter and I exchanged many pleasantries and banters when we met at the Sydney Cricket Ground press box. He would only smile when I would mention that he was my numero-uno cricket writer now alive, as Wodehouse and Robinson are in a better world.

Now all my top three authors are gone but their classics are for all to savour for years to come.

Peter Roebuck at the Adelaide Oval

Early this morning I was contemplating writing a post for The Roar stressing that Australian selectors should not panic as the Aussie batsmen did at Cape Town on Thursday on the dark day of Australian cricket.

But soon after I read Peter’s erudite and incisive column in The Sun-Herald saying the same thing and I dropped the idea. Soon after I received Bayman’s phone call on Peter’s passing.

The last paragraph of Peter’s final article in The Sun-Herald appears eerie in view of the tragedy that happened a few hours later in the Southern Sun Hotel Newlands in Cape Town. To quote the last para of his story, “Mind you, a lot can happen in a week. It just did.”

Yes, in retrospect it just did.

Enough has been written on Peter Roebuck, the Somerset batsman who hit 33 centuries and 93 fifties besides taking 72 wickets and 162 catches in his first-class career spanning from 1974 to 1991, the classy writer of many analytical columns and books and an enigmatic person.

Spiro Zavos paid him a glowing tribute in The Roar yesterday. What more can I add.

Rather I would like to share with you some of the humorous and personal encounters we shared in the SCG Press Box and elsewhere.

He teased me about my love of eating samosas during tea breaks in a Test.

In the foreword to my book ‘Heroes of 100 Tests‘, he wrote, “Kersi never forgets that cricket is a story about the humanity of the players, their mighty achievements and their numerous flaws. He tells their stories with kindliness and sensitivity which he forgets only when news breaks in the Sydney press box that the samosas are on the way!”

When I sent him a picture of him holding a plate full of samosas, he e-mailed me back saying, “Kersi, you are a naughty genius/mad man! Peter”.

We had that sort of relation, joking and counter-joking.

What a pity that I lost two friends who were radiant cricket writers within nine months; Vinay Verma in March and Peter Roebuck yesterday. By an eerie coincidence, Peter was born on 6 March and Vinay died on 6 March!

Here are my two favourite quotes from the word artist Peter Roebuck in The Sydney Morning Herald:

“[Steve] Waugh’s first hundred drained the life from his opponents. His second buried them. Mark Waugh is a rose to his brother’s thorn” — after an injured Steve Waugh’s gallant centuries in both innings in the 1997 Manchester Ashes Test.

And now to the best of Peter Roebuck:

“In [Wasim] Akram’s hands a ball does not so much talk as sing. With a flick of the wrist and an arm that flashes past his ears like a thought through a child’s brain he pushes the ball across the batsmen and makes it dip back wickedly late.

“Akram’s career has been not so much a career as a merry-go-round … A compelling figure, he has the grin of a playboy, the face of a gangster and the powers of a cricketing genius.”

Peter Roebuck was himself a compelling figure – forceful and balanced. He spiced his columns and commentaries with humorous metaphors. The press boxes around the cricketing world will not be the same. I’ll miss you, Peter.

Kersi Meher-Homji wrote this piece for The Roar.