Posts Tagged ‘Peter Roebuck’

Roebuck and I

Posted: November 19, 2011 by The CouchExpert in Cricket, Opinion
Tags: , ,

Goutham Chakravarthi

Like most, I woke up to the beep on my mobile on Sunday to learn of his death. I was devastated. I sank to the floor on my bathroom and ran cold water over my burning cheeks. I was crying. I never knew he mattered so much.

By far my most favourite cricket book

Over the week, I have learnt to make peace with the reality of his loss. He invoked more thought and debate in me than any other writer could. Not even people I knew in life managed to have me on tenterhooks like he did. I read his work always. Sometimes, I felt he was a liar and I quickly realized it was my nationalistic feelings blinding my vision. It didn’t matter what he said, it was always going to take many readings and enough thinking and re-thinking and re-reading for me to fully comprehend what he wrote. It amused me initially that he thought matters like marriage and children could affect great cricketers and their game. To me, a cover drive was a cover drive. Married, widowed or gay had nothing to do with it. He thought differently. Society, background and mentoring, or the lack of it, mattered to him. He saw cricket through the eyes of a historian, analyst, fan, player, politics, society. Perhaps more. Definitely more. I was never clever to see through all of them.

As a child growing up in a small village in southern India in the 90s meant access to television and cable tv was a non option. The Sportstar was the only thing I read. Not even school books, but The Sportstar, yes, many times over each week. But I cannot recall reading Peter Roebuck before 1998. The Aussies had been humbled in the first Test at Chennai following a Tendulkar master class. Two weeks later, I read his column on The Sportstar. He bespoke of India as a nation and gave insights into Kumble and Srinath. It might have been about them being engineers, but I do not recall exactly. Yet I can recall that it left an impression on me. I was hooked. From then on, I have not missed an opportunity to read any of his work.

Like all, I would not agree with some of his opinions. Some of them were seriously above me. His pet hates included Mugabe and Zimbabwe. Perhaps I was too young to understand. Many years later, I still cannot correlate many things he had to say on Zimbabwean cricket and the many reforms he sought from them. Politics never interested me like it did to him. But the black arm-band incident in the 2003 world cup woke me up to some of the realities of Zimbabwe. And since, I have caught up enough to make sense of some of his writings on Zimbabwe and Africa.

Like with all sport and sportsmen, there are intangibles that go beyond the numbers they have to show for the efforts. I learnt how to look for those in my analysis of players as I read and re-read some of his works. I treasure his It Takes All Sorts and often fall back on it to learn about cricketers and cultures and minds. I tried reading the game and the cricketers as I saw them. Yet, his would be the first article I would read the following morning to see if he saw it any differently. He invariably did. And he was often right. And I would go back and read the book again!

Amateur writers like me do not have to worry about deadlines or toe the sensitive lines of the employer. But the freedom that comes with it also bestows the responsibility of trying to write to the best and honest ability of self. Often the style mattered to me though I never got round to figuring out what it was! Words were re-juggled and phrases re-written. Over time, I tried to build my works on my opinions. Unlike he, it was difficult for me to be bluntly honest or be as vocal every time I wrote my opinion pieces. I hid behind the comforting blanket of diplomacy. Perhaps it reflected my insecurity and self doubts. Even fear. What if I’m seen to be a fool, I would think. And I have hated myself for not choosing to be more forthright on those occasions.

He often mesmerized me with his conviction in his opinion and the cleverly and rationally thought-out supporting arguments in proving his cause. Not to mention his ability with words and metaphor. I have often tried imitating and always fallen flat. It didn’t matter if my opinion differed from his, I started to try presenting my honest opinion and build my argument around it. Needless to say, he was the inspiration and the standard I liked comparing myself to. Not that we were equals, but, hey, he was the best and it rarely hurt to compare yourself with him. I knew the answer to that and I tried inching my way closer but the chasm would never narrow. Like I really had a chance!

I never liked him on television when he would appear on cricket shows. His arguments were better in print than it was on television. Perhaps I was more captivated by his writing and I preferred reading him. May be he wrote exactly what he said on radio or television in the newspapers, but they were always impeccable and captivating in print. May be it was also a case of not wanting to find out your favourite uncle was indeed not the all-knowing superman you always thought he was.

Like many intangibles in life, Roebuck was one for me. It never mattered what he did or where he was, but it mattered what he said. I never exchanged an email or saw him in person. He mesmerized with his words and thought. His correlation of cricket to life and vice-versa made him the best analyst of his time. His prose was magic. Or it was infatuation. I don’t care. He remained the most honest of writers who wrote what he saw, unafraid and unbiased. It is a trait I hope to imbibe to my writing. It is the best tribute I can hope pay to him.


Goutham Chakravarthi

13 February 2011


It is almost incredible that the world of cricket media fails to see beyond what’s with the experts. Numerous debates on the future of television coverage have raged the TV and internet space newly only to see predictable conclusions in the form of pay-per-view and HD television as its future. But I cannot fathom why there isn’t enough importance given to a whole lot of discussion, analyses and literature the non-experts’ section of the cricket world has to offer.

Largely it is a pile of waste that comes out post-game on TV or in the press. Cricinfo is among the most sought after sources of information for fans who want more than what they get on TV: pods, humour, debates being most prominent among them. But even then, Cricinfo still throws a large amount of the same rubbish all other forms of media do – pre-match predictions (templated and boringly predicatble), sound bites, injury rumours and of course a whole host of ex-cricketers not worth an ounce as experts.

It is beyond doubt that some of the best cricket analyses come from bloggers. Perhaps because these are people who enjoy watching the game and in no hurry to meet a deadline. Often these articles and opinions are far more interesting as they tend to have different flavours of perspective. Largely intelligent and even successful people on various counts of life are able to relate to various events on the game that sometimes escape even seasoned experts and journalists.

It is hardly surprising that pods like Test Match Sofa or Test Match Special are a lot more enjoyable today than a group of great ex-cricketers who give you the score every second ball or call an ingenious Laxman flick with a sponsor prefix to it. May be a day is not far off when technological advancements make inroads into television coverage where a bunch of people from across the globe connect to call the action and those who prefer their version over the official version can choose to listen to it. I would any day take Andy Zaltzman cussing over a piece of action than an ex-cricket go “he’s only gonna get better with age” everytime he sees a promising youngster.

Recently, there have been stories of journalists not being too happy with cricketers’ tweeting. Some seem to think cricketers have now taken over their jobs. Some recently have found cricketers taking a dig at their writing offensive. Ryder and Swan are a lot more fun with their tweets than many of the journalists taking offense to their comments. May be, for lesser spontaneous cricketers, they can try becoming their ghost tweeters. Much of today’s cricket journalism is bland.

Today’s writing largely remains ancient as it was decades ago when newspapers recounted the day’s events when live action didn’t reach the majority and as a result the writer unfolding the sequence of events allowed the writer to paint the game to the readers. It is a largely different world today where instant tweets even as the events unfold have become the norm (not to mention cricket coverage on phones and over broadband).

May be, that is why slightly unorthodox but mighty fine observers like Andy Zaltzman are entertaining and sought after. Great captains of yore who read the game well and inform of the likelihood of events to unfold still hold fort. Still, Opinion columns are predictable and so are post-game analyses. May be, they are going the way of player interviews that are repeats of the same thing time and again. Our experts ask the same questions, the players give the same answers and the writers write the same things. No reason why the consumer to this feels cheated.

Not sure if am being callous here. But I do believe that the best coverage out there is by the fans – amateurs who do it for fun and hobby but with as much dedication and application as the pros. Talented bloggers like Arnab Ray (Great Bong), Adam Wakefield (Bleacher Report and often in the Inbox section of Cricinfo), Subash Jayaraman (Cricket Couch), John vd Westhuizen (Cricket Guru), Brendon Layton (The Straight Bat) will provide interesting views to rival the best that goes around everywhere else. Of course, cricketwithballs, boredcricketcrazyindians, thealternativecricketalmanack keep us all entertained with their brand of cricket literature. And I hope that the best our of tweeter cricketers continue to keep us all entertained with that information their boards and press don’t want them to give us.

As much as a world cup it is going to be of Bhogle, Chappell, Boycott, Roebuck, Baum, Booth and Houwing, I will keep my eyes open for the best blogs, pods and tweets.

And may be, some of you will check out this space for more.