Police confirm Peter Roebuck committed suicide

South African police have released a statement confirming that cricket columnist and commentator Peter Roebuck took his own life.

Updated: November 13, 2011 16:49 IST
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South African police have released a statement confirming that cricket columnist and commentator Peter Roebuck took his own life.

"This office can confirm that an incident occurred last night at about 21:15 at a hotel in Claremont where a 55-year-old British national who worked as an Australian commentator committed suicide," the statement said. "The circumstances surrounding this incident is being conducted. An inquest docket has been opened for investigation." (Also Read: Cricket columnist Peter Roebuck dies aged 55)

Roebuck, 55, was in South Africa covering Australia's ongoing Test tour, including as a radio commentator for the ABC. He was spoken to by local police on his return to the Southern Sun Hotel Newlands on Saturday night after he had been out to dinner.

A statement issued by the hotel said "an incident that occurred at Southern Sun Newlands" was currently under full police investigation. No further details were given.

"Incredibly sad news. He was an integral part of the Grandstand commentary team and apart from being a magnificent print journalist," Craig Norenbergs, the ABC Grandstand manager, said. "For us he could describe a game of cricket in such a way that even if you didn't like the game, you liked the way that he went about his business."

His managing editor at the Herald, Ian Fuge, called Roebuck's death a "a devastating blow to all at The Sydney Morning Herald both professionally and personally".

''Peter was a wonderful writer who was the bard of summer for cricket-loving Australians,'' he said. ''He was also an extraordinary bloke who will be sorely missed.''

In addition to his work in print and radio, Roebuck was also a widely read columnist for ESPNcricinfo, contributing his views in both written and audio form. His last column had expressed cautious optimism about the progress of the Australian team. Sambit Bal, editor of ESPNcricinfo, said Roebuck had always pressed the importance of avoiding nationalism in how the game should be viewed.

"He was a rare global voice in the game," he said. "He used to say that there was too much nationalism in cricket writing. His writing was devoid of any allegiance to nation, team or any player. I cherished his friendship and counsel."

Roebuck was born in Oxford on March 6, 1956, the son of two schoolteachers and and one of six children. He was attracted to cricket at an early age and grew into an accomplished batsman with Somerset, going on to captain the county to success in the 1980s. He also led an England team to defeat against Holland.

In 335 first-class matches, Roebuck made 17,558 runs at 37.27, with 33 centuries. His playing career was overshadowed to some degree by a bitter and drawn-out feud with other members of the Somerset team, which led to the removal of Joel Garner and Viv Richards from the team and the exit of Ian Botham.

As Roebuck's cricket developed, so too did his writing. It Never Rains, his journal of the 1983 season, established him as one of cricket's most insightful voices even as a young batsman, and he would go on to write numerous other books, including an account of England's Ashes success in Australia in 1986-87.

Australia would play a growing part in Roebuck's life, as he spent summers there teaching and playing cricket, then graduating into writing for newspapers and commentating on radio. After his first-class playing career ended in 1991, Roebuck shared his time between Australia and South Africa, living in Sydney and Pietermaritzberg.

Ian Chappell, the former Australia captain and fellow commentator, said Roebuck had always provided worthwhile company in the often self-contained, and consumed, world of the press box. "I used to regularly find an excuse to chat to him because I enjoyed his company and always felt I'd learn something from him, and I got to know him better and better down the years," Chappell said. "He was a bit of a loner but around the press box he was good company and a worthwhile opinion.

"We didn't talk so much about the game, more about things around the game, like corruption - he always had pretty good contacts - and things like Zimbabwe which he felt pretty strongly about. We'd also talk about players a bit, and I always made a point of seeking him out because I enjoyed his opinions. I enjoyed reading his stuff, at times I read it and didn't get the point, so he wasn't exactly Bill O'Reilly, but he was a damn good writer, a colourful writer and he brought other things in life into it."

Roebuck's columns were fiercely independent and artfully written, often expressing the contrarian view but at other times articulating the thoughts of many, though in words they could not have found. His views were never more hotly-debated than when the Herald ran a front-page opinion piece in which Roebuck called for the sacking of Ricky Ponting as Australia captain following the acrimonious 2008 SCG Test against India.

It was a measure of his worth to Fairfax as a voice and agenda-setter that the rival News Ltd papers were always wary of what the fearless Roebuck would write, and would wince when he produced, as in the case of the Ponting piece, a view so staunch and so newsworthy that they could do little else but follow it up.

He was outspoken on numerous topics, not least the degeneration of Zimbabwe cricket, and was also a frequent questioner of the game's administrators and money-men. He wrote critically of the influence of betting, both legal and illegal, within the game, and warned against the proliferation of cricket without meaning or context.

On radio Roebuck served as the international counterpoint to the strong Australian voices to be found in the ABC box. Despite his time spent in Australia, he related to his fellow commentator Kerry O'Keeffe that he would always be a "chap", the English term for a grown man, rather than the Australian "bloke".

"Nobody analysed the game better, nobody cut to the chase more succinctly, and nobody saw where the game was going bette," O'Keeffe said on ABC radio. "He was a bookworm who loved the game, cricket consumed him and he played it with great distinction, and then turned to writing and commentary, and he was the No. 1 seed.

"It is the most devastating news for so many out there who knew that voice, so incisive - the blue print for all our cricket commentary. He rang me up nearly every week for the last 10 years to talk cricket, and every time I'd put the phone down and have a deeper view of the game after the conversation."

As a man, Roebuck could be prickly, but was always prepared to share his views on the game and on life. In his autobiography, Sometimes I Forgot To Laugh, Roebuck's father described him. "In orthodox spheres," he said, "Peter might be regarded as odd, whereas he is merely obscure and oblique. He is an unconventional loner, with an independent outlook on life, an irreverent sense of humour and sometimes a withering tongue."

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