Category Archives: Roebuck

In memoriam – Roebuck.

Perched directly behind the bowler’s arm, Ajit Agarkar’s to be precise, in the Sir Donald Bradman stand at the Adelaide oval, the heat was flat, dry and in the mid-thirties. Capped with the strong Australian light, without a trace of humidity, it made one ask why Australian teams complained when they toured the sub-continent.

The air-conditioning notwithstanding, it made me perspire just to think of buttoning a collar, let alone yoking oneself to a tie. The Bhogles, Shastris and Gavaskars strolling around on breaks from TV commentary duties, contractually obligated to suffer under the noose, looked like they might have been far more comfortable in the South Indian veshti-banian (white wrap-singlet), or perhaps a loose cotton kurta.

Which was exactly what Peter Roebuck had on as he came around the corner, his straw hat crowning patrician features, telling a companion Indian journalist in that clipped and firm voice “I don’t know why you wouldn’t wear a kurta in such weather”.

The occasion was of course the watershed match when India trumped Australia in Australia for the first time in 23 years. It was notable for Ponting and Dravid’s double centuries, Ajit ‘Bombay Duck’ Agarkar’s 6-for, and it must be said, the teenage Parthiv Patel’s woeful ‘keeping.

For me, it was the first sighting of the man, long listened to, who it was said was getting to be a more widely read English writer in India than P.G.Wodehouse. For long had I admired his neatly struck coinages ‘leather-flingers’ and the one that combined English wit with a dig at the upstart colonials;

“Yousuf Youhana was only the fifth Christian to play for Pakistan, a number higher, one supposes, than have played for Australia”.

As the series made its way to Melbourne, Srini Vasan of Melbourne’s ‘Indian Voice’ organised a buffet with the cricketing faithful during the course of the Boxing day test. To bear out Kerry O’Keefe’s introduction in ‘Sometimes I forgot to laugh’, it was in a ‘one-star’ Indian restaurant out in the suburbs. The audience was largely of Indian origin and still delirious after the Adelaide win and Sehwag’s 195 on the first day at the MCG. We quietened down and listened in rapt silence to Peter’s views on the day’s play. The event concluded with what soon became an annual ritual; Srini presenting Peter with a kurta.

But that was not all. The restaurateur emerged with a bottle of wine. Peter graciously accepted the bottle but it was followed up with a marker pen and a semaphored request for a signature. Peter signed with a rueful smile and handed the bottle back to the clueless restaurateur amid much raucous laughter.

The Boxing Day Test buffet soon became a much looked-forward-to annual event thanks to Srini Vasan and Peter Roebuck. Given this was not a publicised event, a flurry of calls elicited the venue of each year’s event and Peter soon grew to recognise us regulars.

Mario Puzo wrote “The migrant retains with him a fossilized image of the country he left behind”. As these dinners progressed over the years, Peter, who travelled to India more often and widely than we could or did, became quite the voice of India. Peter began painting for us first hand the image of an India that was changing and growing beyond the realms of our ‘fossilized image’. Our discussions spanned Indian fast food to changing mores and moralities. One either imagined or sensed his wistful nostalgia for the fast disappearing days of genteel cricketers as epitomised by Bhagwat Chandrasekhar and the alarming rise of Cricket moms.

Far from the popular view the cricketing world has of him being an apologist for Indian cricket, I consider him to be more of a realist, closer to the action.
On one occasion, we were as usual playing armchair generals and castigating the BCCI. He took a contrary view and without disagreeing, made constructive observations that could only come from one who had begun to understand how such an essentially Indian organisation as the BCCI worked.

That was as telling a metaphor to underline that we had drifted away from comprehension while he had begun to arrive closer to the centre.

RIP Peter. The world of cricket will be a lesser place without you.
Soundar

P.S. Here’s a link to the last such event.

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A conversation with Peter Roebuck

Srinivasan of the ‘Indian Voice’ in Melbourne organises a dinner around the Boxing Day Test every year featuring Peter Roebuck.

The venue is always at Indian restaurants, with names featuring ‘Punjabi’ ‘Dhaba’ ‘Masala’ ‘Curry’ and ‘takeaway’ in the usual permutations. The chef cum proprietor is routinely guilty 0f the interior decor, with a propensity for sequinned works featuring bearded grandees a-loll against bolsters receiving intoxicants from surahi bearing maidens with impossibly imposing implants. What looks very like a lungi on the wall with Taj Mahals all over it may well be my philistine eye not recognising a wall hanging when I see one.

None of this should take away from the menu which rarely deviates from Naan, dal makhani, mixed veg curry, papad and rice. For those of a certain persuasion, there a couple of other curries featuring body parts of young quadrupeds and bipeds.

The Roebuck dinner is an event I rarely miss, affording as it does the opportunity to fill up to the back teeth at the buffet for 10 bucks,  listen to one of the most engaging writers and fluent talkers about the game.

Sadly this time around the numbers were’nt there at all. Maybe something to do with the fact that it was Pakistan and not India playing Oz? Sanjay Manjrekar is perhaps right after all. Maybe most Indians are just interested in Indian cricket.

Nevertheless it made for a relatively committed gathering that welcomed Peter at about half past seven. The usual format was for everyone to hoe into the buffet, at the conclusion of which Srini would introduce Peter, who would then hold forth for a bit, followed by questions from the floor. Srini would then wind up with a present of a kurta (Peter’s favourite garment whilst in India) and invitations to contribute to Peter’s favourite charity.

Peter is one, one suspects, who will talk cricket through the night if given the chance. Here then, are a few excerpts.

On his castigation of Chris Gayle before the Windies toured and subsequent approbation.

Most readers will recall that Peter had blasted Gayle for his stance apropos Test Cricket prior to landing on these shores.

Peter said he consistently states his mind with the facts at hand. If that meant that he changed his views and opinions from time to time, so be it. So long as the process was consistent, the end results could well change. Certainly, once Gayle demonstrated some responsible leadership in Oz, Peter did not see his commitment to Tests as an issue any more.

On Umar Akmal blasting Peter Siddle for 19 in one over.

High praise from Peter who was reminded of a young Sachin who hit perfectly good deliveries breathtakingly well. The crucial thing that separated the ‘Nadamaadum Deivam’ (my phrase, not Peter’s) from Umar was the latter’s ‘youthful impetuosity’ that caused him to throw away his wicket after he reached 51. What struck him about Sachin back then, reminisced Peter was that, even at 19, he had a ‘calm centre’ within him that ensured that he was hitting the ball amazingly well on its merits, not just with youthful abandon.

On the ever so slight improvement in the provincial nature of cricket writing in the Australian press.

This was a topic that delved into areas outside of cricket such as an evolving national image, an improved understanding of the wider world and apropos cricket, soul searching post Kumble 2007. That said, what I understood him to mean was that the hacks are, person for person, more deserving of credit than is given them. For the most part, they tend to be aligned to either the Fairfax or the News Ltd stables, each of which caters to a certain demographic. Articles are then written to suit.

This reminded me of Suketu Mehta’s take on Bollywood film directors. ‘None of them are remotely the idiots that their movies would lead you to believe’. Or words to that effect.

On India being on top of the Test Totem pole.

Contrary to the jingoism and triumphalism that might be expected, we the discerning audience took the view that India’s reign would be short lived. Largely because the fab four were on the way out, our bowling still does not inspire, the much beloved BCCI still operates as a fiefdom dispensing benevolence and largesse etc etc. Without disagreeing, he also pointed out that India could not have reached the top without Australia, SAF and to an extent England stumbling periodically. In defence of the BCCI he pointed out the fact that state level cricketers could now make a decent living from the game. ‘Fathers who, fifteen years ago were doing all they could to dissuade their boys are now pushing them with the same force into the game!’

One eyed Indians.

He didn’t hold back in chiding Indians for seeing conspiracies and bloc politics whenever anything went against India or Bucknor did us in again. A pretty thin skinned and one eyed mob we were, said he. Hard to disagree, especially if you share my opinion that we conveniently lose sight of when we benefit , as we did with SK Bansal in that 2001 epic in Kolkata.

As an aside, has anyone heard of Bansal after that game?

And so it went, till Srini had to reluctantly call stumps. As we trooped out into the warm night though, we were all in agreement that we had NOT got our hard earned’s worth.

For, there was no ‘gulab jamun’ to finish off.

Soundar

Onwards to Adelaide.

 There are seminal, never to be forgotten times in every one’s life. One such for me was actually being present at the Adelaide Oval during India’s famous victory there in 2003.

I contrived to travel to Adelaide on Business and finish all my meetings by lunch, whereupon I took a taxi across town to the Adelaide Oval to a press pass organised by a relative who was with ESPN.

I watched Dravid get his double from the George Giffen stand and post lunch, went up to the press box from where I watched Ajit Agarkar get his immortal 6-for. This was as close to cricketing heaven as it got. I was directly behind the bowler’s arm. On either side were the Channel Nine, ESPN, ABC and other media boxes.

Tony Greig, Ian Healy, Wasim Akram, Ravi Shastri, Harsha Bhogle, Geoff Boycott-they all came to stretch out in this area and grab a drink or two. Gavaskar played tennis ball cricket with, I think, Jim Maxwell’s son while he was waiting for his lunch of naan and subzi from the local Indian restaurant.

Various print and internet journalists flitted about-Roebuck especially stood out in his kurta-particularly appropriate wear for that hot day. When I gushed to Sambit Bal that Cricinfo was my homepage, he asked politely whether I also subscribed to Cricinfo magazine. When I said no, his look, I imagine, seemed to say “Kanja Pisnaari payal” (Tight fisted so-and-so).

It was an unforgettable day, made particularly eventful when India won the next day.

Here’s hoping there’s an encore this time around and we are celebrating it in full measure over the Australia Day/Republic Day long weekend!

Soundar

Sreesanth gets under Aussie skins

Malcolm Conn, writing in The Australian — he is not one-eyed, he is just blind(ed) — says of Sreesanth, “The volatile paceman may also face sanction from match referee Chris Broad, who was looking at Sreesanth’s boorish and unnecessary send-off of Hayden after claiming his wicket.

Agreed that that celebration by Sreesanth was a bit over-the-top. But I thought bowlers were allowed to celebrate in any way they can/want as long as it does not lead to abusive behaviour. I do not believe Sreesanth provided Hayden with an abusive send off, although if one were Malcolm Conn and if one was totally pissed off at losing a high-intensity match, one could be lulled into a state where one thought that that was an abusive send off. Moreover, where was Malcolm Conn when Brad Williams, the two-bit player who played but a handful of Test matches for Australia, provided choice send offs to the likes of Sourav Ganguly and Sachin Tendulkar when India toured Australia last? Perhaps Malcolm Conn was busy looking the other way then? Or maybe he was just totally cheesed off on Saturday night and indulged in some sour grapes. This possible mental-state was further illustrated by this bit, possible written with clenched teeth, “The Indian players were overjoyed with their victory, celebrating wildly as if they’d just won the soccer World Cup.

Peter Roebuck, writing in The Age, has this to say about Sreesanth.

Sreesanth was the bowler of the semi-final, a firebrand antidote to notions that Indians are deferential and that pace bowlers can be found only in the warlike and mountainous north.

Sreesanth comes from Kerala, a state that has not produced many cricketers. He is a hero there, of course, and the selectors are loathe to send him home because he comes back a stone heavier and several yards slower.

The entire article can be found here.

— Mohan

Roebuck goes to town on Akhtar

Peter Roebuck has written this scathing piece on Shoaib Akhtar in today’s Melbourne Age. I’ve never read a more scathing piece from Roebuck. Even for a man who brooks no fools and is seldom afraid to call a spade an excavation-truck, this is a cutting and acid piece of journalism! May his tribe swell…

Alan Border adopts a more conciliatory, yet firm and direct tone while discussing this same issue in The Australian.

And yesterday, Mathew Hayden termed the whole Akhtar-scenario “ludicrous“.

— Mohan