Roebuck’s Howl

People who know Peter Roebuck far better than I do have already written about their personal experiences with the troubled Allen Ginsberg type figure of world cricket.

I only met Roebuck once, which is weird considering the amount of time we spent in shared press boxes. Writing about that one meeting, where he was very nice (bit of a close talker), doesn’t make much sense.

What I can write about is how Peter Roebuck had a small part to play in cricket with balls.

Most here would know that there aren’t many more aggressively didactic propganda machines than cricket in Australia.

This machine was in operation for years, even when Australia was rubbish.

By the mid 90s it was an oppressive machine telling me everytime I picked up the paper, watched the TV or listened to the radio that Australian cricket was the Alpha and Omega.

They weren’t wrong, Australia was better than a truck load of Dixie cups.

But they completely overlooked anything that didn’t fit the narrative.

It was as if Australia was a utopian cricket team that could do no wrong.

And mostly it was, but when something didn’t go right, or something else was up, no one seemed to notice or care.

It was a weird time to be a cricket fan in Australia.

Then there was Roebuck, one of the few voices in Australia who ever pointed that on occasion Australia was not the only thing that mattered in cricket.

Sometime around 2000 I remember an ABC radio stint that Roebuck did. Someone said to him, “surely Adam Gilchrist has to be thought of as perhaps the best Test batsman in world cricket”. It was a ludicrous suggestion.

I could imagine others in the Australian Cricket Machine eating that up, or at least treating it like it was worth considering.

Roebuck wouldn’t have any of it. Instantly he popped out the names of Lara, Waugh and Tendulkar. Then he talked about how much easier it was to bat at seven. Then he’d barely been in around in Tests for very long. He did it in his own analytically angst driven way, like his brain was going slightly quicker than his mouth and he was trying to spit all the facts out.

That was Roebuck to me, the dissenting voice.

That moment, and hundreds more like it, made an impression on me, and although Roebuck didn’t have much to do with my minority opinions, it was just good to know it wasn’t just me having them. That cricket was cricket, and that it wasn’t just a chance to prove Australian superiority.

I didn’t always agree with Roebuck. Sometimes I thought he was about as far from right as was humanly possible, and it’s hard to believe that he started thinking of himself as an Australian over the last few years.

But, he had the balls to say what he thought, and not just mindlessly nod in the direction of the gospel of the Australian Cricket regime. He really thought about things, and then he spoke or wrote about them pretty damn well.

It was easier for him, because he wasn’t Australian. Although, I doubt that made him any more likeable to the vast majority of Australian cricket fans.

Not that he was ever going to be that popular, his uneasy intense manner, posh accent and spanking of 19 year old boys in his care were always going to limit how much love he got.

It’s that dark side of Roebuck’s personality that may be the next story in his death. When the report of his death first was written, that line about the policeman was more ominous that Roebuck’s last published line.

Like Allen Ginsberg, it doesn’t really matter how important some people may think their work was, that young boy tag doesn’t disappear, especially not when you’re known as Spanky.

Ginsberg once said “I saw the best minds of my generation destroyed by madness”.

Roebuck had one of the best brains in cricket, and it is now destroyed, starving, hysterical and naked.

That he killed himself, was involved in illegal actions with young men and perhaps even more doesn’t change the fact that years ago he also did things that had an impact on me.

Life isn’t ever clear cut, and history will remember Roebuck its own way, but for me he was a dissenting voice with some serious issues that eventually got him.

EDIT: Some think that I have inferred that Roebuck was a pedophile in this piece, which was far from my intention.  I have no idea who Roebuck fucked, although I know he never fucked me, even though I was looking pretty damn sexy the night we met.  When I mentioned the young boy tag, I did so on purpose with Ginsberg (who also wasn’t a confirmed pedophile), but that didn’t stop people inferring that he was.  Within 24 hours of this piece 3 other articles, that I know of, inferred Roebuck was a pedophile, which I knew would happen.  It was inevitable considering the amount of rumours about him behind the scenes, some said by people who wrote touching obits about him.  It’s actually kind of odd that a man who likes his men younger, but legal, is a pedophile, but a man who likes his women younger, but legal, is a legend.  Either way, it wasn’t my intention to say Roebuck was fucking young boys, ofcourse, if I wanted to say that, I would have just said it and not slipped it in a weirdly subtle way.  But I didn’t want to say it because Peter Roebuck didn’t invite me to watch him in the bedroom, strange as that may sound.

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17 thoughts on “Roebuck’s Howl

  1. Fahad says:

    Nice one Jrod! Life is messy. Sometimes things cant fit in neat little boxes. RIP PRoebuck

  2. Doyle says:

    Let’s not jump to any conclusions yet about what may or may not have occurred. Maybe its naive to think that but I really do hope that nothing illegal occurred. Please no one asks Ian Botham to make comment on his death. It seems like he was a tortured genius, will be sad if those inner demons got the better of him. Listening to the ABC won’t be the same this summer.

  3. MJ says:

    Nice commentary JRod. Describing the good points, mentioning weaknesses and certainly not blowing any smoke like the mainstream media.

  4. Matt says:

    Nice article Jrod – a balance between reflecting on Roebuck’s undeniably quality work as a writer and broadcaster without ignoring his undeniably questionable history. His outsider’s view of Australian cricket was not always welcome but it was often refreshing given the tongue-baths the Australian team hierarchy were used to receiving in the Australian press.

    FWIW he was better in the commentary box than in the paper. Over time, he started to believe his own press and began to overwrite his articles. He also started to see himself as a latter-day C. L. R. James with his allusions to cricket as a tool for the oppressed to overcome his oppressor. What sounded authentic and real in James’ writing came across as undergraduate postering coming from the English public-schoolboy. The “wild dogs” article is a classic case-in-point.

    It will be interesting to see your comments and reaction as this story develops now that you are a fully-fledged member of the cricket media establishment. :) I trust you will remain a straight-shooter. Sections of the cricket media may have some uncomfortable questions to answer about what they knew about their colleague’s activities and when did they know it.

    • steve says:

      I agree, Matt, some very good points you make, especially about his writing work reading like an undergrads posturing (and I should know, since I often teach undergrads in writing!); and his increasing sense of his own self-importance.

      But I”m not sure too many people will. Everyone seems a bit starry eyed about him at the moment. Which is unfortunate if his suicide does turn out to be because of his private habits. People have a habit of turning nasty if they suddenly find those those admire have feet of clay. As if anyone is a clear cut case.

      Fro myself, I didn’t care for him, though I usually read him, and read his book, because he often brought insights you couldn’t get from anyone else except Gideon Haigh.

      But if his personal demons did get the better of him, I won’t judge him either.

  5. The forgotten victims says:

    I get the feeling that he charmed a lot of people so they turned a blind eye.

    Looking back to when you met him, did he work the charm?

    And separately, did he know who you were and how many times you’d called him spanky?

    Serious questions J.

  6. jogesh99 says:

    A great cricket writer, but in the end, could be remembered as just a nasty perverted Brit (nice euphemism for pederasty you got there btw, “inner demons.” Why, was he buggering his own arse?)

  7. Good on ya JRod, nice piece

  8. […] one that had real value in Australia and the wider cricketing world. Cricketwithballs supremo Jrod observes that he was the only dissenting during his youth when no one questioned the all-conquering Aussie […]

  9. jogesh99 says:

    On the Paki spot-fixing scandal, Roebuck pontificates:
    “Sport itself is sincere or it is nothing. Seeing and believing must be bedfellows. Cricket can no longer make any such claim.”

    Din’t apply to whites providing shelter to orphaned blacks I guess.

  10. Rachel says:

    Jrod, you really need to be more careful when you mix sex and cricket (like when the IPL raped your daughter – ugh).

    So here’s my question – when you were 19, did you consider yourself a “boy” or a “young boy”? Or were you a “young man”. I have never seen or heard any evidence that Peter Roebuck had a “young boy” problem. The charges in Taunton were brought by young men of 19, and the man in Capetown is reportedly 26. They are young men, or just men. It’s just inexcusable of you”young boys tag” falsely and in doing so encourage people to think of Roebuck as a pervert or a pederast.

    And what’s this shit you write that it’s hard to believe he had started to think of himself as Australian? There are so many different kinds of Australians, who are you to be an arbiter of who’s Australian and un-Australian – John Howard the Second or what?

    Stick to the the cricket for a bit please mate.

    • Jrod says:

      Rachel,

      Well, I considered myself a boy until my early 20s, but everyone is different. My young boy comment was based on the rumours about him that, like Ginsberg, might be unfounded but don’t go away. I thought that was clear. If I wanted to call him a pedophile, I would have.

      Perhaps this was a too strong statement, and I know some won’t be happy I stepped off the reservation, but I was sick and tired of reading lovely obits from people who called him a pedo behind his back or used him as the butt of jokes. And I knew the attacks from the other side would soon follow. A person like Roebuck deserves a balanced obit, he wasn’t just a saint, nor a sinner, he was a human being. That is all I tried to do.

      As for what I should stick to, I’ll talk about what I want. I always have and will, something Roebuck was also quite good at. I won’t tell you what to comment about either.

  11. jogesh99 says:

    Soon after the alleged sexual assault, Roebuck wrote on his Facebook page at 12.06am on November 9: “Every saint has a past, every sinner has a future.”

    http://www.theaustralian.com.au/news/world/your-sick-acts-humiliated-me-roebucks-alleged-victim-speaks-out/story-e6frg6so-1226198335279

  12. Matt says:

    All interesting points. Agreed with Rachel that to call them young boys does imply pedo … I didn’t dig any further and assumed they much have been underage. Agree with you too Jrod that u should write about whatever the fuck you like. Maybe a post on cricket games for instance. While I appreciate that Roebucks death is a far more significant event that the current 2 test series against SA, would still be interesting to hear your thoughts, unless the rest of the media has it covered?

  13. […] Kimbler at Cricket With Balls wrote an excellent piece about Roebuck being the lone dissenting voice in the Australian press corps during their years of […]

  14. Sanjay Sharma says:

    I find it ironic that we are being asked to separate his cricketing journalism from his private life and previous criminal convivtions, in the same week that 3 high profile cricketers were lambasted for their indescretions fuelled by greed.

    If I were to have to spend time with one or the other – I would have to ask. ‘Do I feel comfortable with a sexual predator – who happens to write mesmerically about cricket’ or ”Do I feel comfortable with a cricketer who can mesmerise opponents with the ball, but doesnt mind balling a few no-balls in order to make some extra cash’

    For me, it’s a no brainer! A greedy cricketer over a predator!

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