15 November 2011

Peter, Peter, Peter

What to say about Peter Roebuck? It’s always disturbing when the group loses one of its members, and he seems to have been a very lost sheep indeed and maybe for a long while.

I don’t think it’s disrespectful to say I often found him a very silly man. You don’t have to be a “tormented genius” to earn affection or be entitled to be mourned and I think there’s an element of hysteria in the accolades that have come from his colleagues in the last 24 hours. They protest too much. Starting with Greg Baum’s He was tormented as only genius can be. The circumstances of his death attest to it. I might be misreading the stress here, but surely the one thing that the circumstances of Peter Roebuck’s death attests to is all the reasons a person can be tormented apart from because they're a genius. And Malcolm Knox's citation of a remark made about Roebuck before his death: Peter could have been anything, a professor of literature or a High Court Judge or a political leader.” Could anyone, given the historically established facts, be a more spectacularly inappropriate High Court Judge? Is anyone more unimaginable as a political leader?

A professor of literature, I’ll buy, and Harsha Bhogle is probably on to something when he says that Peter Roebuck was born to write about cricket. Cricket writing is a natural home for Spartan values blended with excessive prose and clearly I know of what I speak. But contra Harsha, Peter Roebuck was born to write about cricket in exactly the opposite way to how Tendulkar was born to play it, because the latter is the triumph over the proprietary rights of imperialism rather than their expression. There was a lot of Imperialism in Peter Roebuck - his global drift, his missionary zeal, his tragically misplaced applications of muscular Christianity. But he also played against type, he was often refreshingly pragmatic and progressive in his views on the evolution of cricket and I appreciated that.

I do think it’s disrespectful to gloss the unsavoury parts of his life as “flaws”, and I do mean disrespectful to him, though not only to him. If you can’t be seen plain after your death, you’ve been erased in a way that’s more sinister than dying. Committing suicide was Peter Roebuck's final feat of eloquence and the least we can do is listen to what he was saying.


  1. Oh dear. I do remember the conversation in which I spoke about Peter Roebuck, but I think the quotation attributed to me is a simplification of what I said. I was trying to make the point that, in the mix of his personality, he had great abilities, the sort of attributes that are necessary to be a judge or a political leader. I was not suggesting that, taken as a whole personality, he would have been suitable in these roles.
    Stephen Chalke

  2. Dear Stephen,
    I'm sorry, I can see how that came across as an attack on your judgement, but it was much more about the choice to use those words yesterday - made by Malcolm Knox - than that anyone would ever say them, and I'll amend that. I understand that comments take on a different hue in the light of events and when removed from their original context. I also understand in defence of Malcolm and everyone else that this about people expressing their grief.
    Kind regards, I'm astonished to be read.