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Bodyline Revisited

by Christopher Booker
Author, journalist and the original editor of Private Eye

It is a particular pleasure for me to contribute to this benefit year tribute to Peter.

Peter Roebuck batting

Peter Roebuck

The first cricket match I ever saw, as a small boy, was when I was taken by my father to Weston-super-Mare in 1946 to see Somerset play Worcester. I remember a huge hit from Arthur Wellard nearly decapitating an old boy who was asleep next to us in a deck chair. He woke up, peered out onto the field, muttered “good old Arthur” and went back to sleep again.

From that day 44 years ago I have never failed to follow Somerset’s fortunes, even though for a long time I lived away from the county. In fact, I could not have chosen a better moment to return to live in Somerset than a certain weekend in September 1979. My wife and I celebrated by joining the crowd at Lord’s that unforgettable day when we won our first title in 104 years, before driving back to spend our first night in our new home near Castle Cary.

In the years that followed our two young sons were lucky to see some of the astonishing feats that marked those great days of the early eighties. But I can remember few days more thrilling than that when Somerset were again playing Worcester at Weston in 1986, and we were set 340 to win on the last afternoon. After a superb start from Brian Rose and Peter, we ran into a mini-collapse and when first Viv Richards and then Ian Botham (after his first innings century in 65 balls) threw their wickets way, it seemed our last chance of victory was gone. But Peter and Vic Marks quietly pushed the score along so effectively that, to the near-disbelief of the crowd, with only four balls of the last over to go, we had won by five wickets – Roebuck on 147 not out, and over 600 runs scored in the day.

Shortly after that we moved to the little village of Litton near Chewton Mendip, where we had the good fortune to find ourselves neighbours of that loyal friend of Somerset cricket John Luff – thanks to whom we have enjoyed some delightfully convivial occasions with Peter in recent years, not least the splendid party in 1989 when Bobby Simpson and Allan Border brought the Australians over to Litton. On a perfect May evening the English countryside was looking at its best, a wonderful time was had by all, Peter stayed later into the night than anyone else except us, and just to prove his point went on the next day at Taunton to make a century. What a pity the selectors weren’t awake.