Shock, sorrow and confusion surround suicide of leading cricket journalist Peter Roebuck (VIDEO)


Peter Roebuck pictured in 1981, when playing for the Somerset cricket team.


Adrian Murrell

It follows that lovers of the game of cricket are often lovers of good writing about cricket.

So when news emerged that one of Australia's most avidly followed cricket journalists, Peter Roebuck, had died Saturday evening in Cape Town South Africa, the outpouring of emotion was unsurprising.

Tributes filled newspaper columns and segments on the same TV and radio stations that each cricket season had employed Roebuck to impart his decades of expertise in "the great game."

However, confusion soon followed, as details emerged of Roebuck's untimely death at 55.

It seems to former top-level British cricketer, who relocated to Australia and became "the finest cricket writer of his generation," according to his main employer, The Sydney Morning Herald had killed himself.

Roebuck apparently plunged six stories to his death from a Cape Town hotel room minutes after receiving a visit from the police. 

The mystery swirled for a day before word came through Monday morning, again via the SMH, that police were investigating claims of sexual assault against Roebuck.

According to the paper: 

A Cape Town detective and a uniformed police officer from the sexual crimes unit began speaking with Roebuck, 55, in his room at the Southern Sun Hotel, Newlands, about p.m..

Roebuck, who was agitated, asked a fellow cricket journalist for help. ''Can you come down to my room quickly? I've got a problem,'' he said. He asked for help to find a lawyer and for contact to be made with the students he helped to house in Pietermaritzburg, near Durban.

Minutes later Roebuck fell to his death from a window. It is believed only the uniformed officer was in the room. Paramedics rushed to the hotel but Roebuck was pronounced dead. Police established a crime scene and took personal items from the room, including a laptop.

As followers of the game — and of Roebuck's coverage of the game — awaited clarity on the events surrounding his death, the testimonials continued:

Roebuck was "a person who had a great sense of humanity and caring," said ABC radio commentator Jim Maxwell.

"Fiercely independent, fearless, selfless and rootless," wrote Gideon Haigh, in The Australian.

"The death of Peter Roebuck leaves the grass less green and cricket without its most effective investigative journalist," the BBC quoted former England captain Tony Greig as saying.

BBC cricket correspondent Jonathan Agnew tweeted: "My God. Just heard about Peter Roebuck. Loved working with him. Incisive. Erudite. Funny. Don't know the full story."

"He shared his observations not only with the readers ... but generously with young cricket journalists for whom he was an unstinting mentor," wrote the SMH's Chloe Saltau.

The Murdoch press, whose own cricket writers who often found themselves playing catch--up to Roebuck's cricket coverage in the SMH, revealed that Roebuck had spent more than $100,000 of his own money putting African youths through high school and university.

Meanwhile, News Corp. was also reporting the not-so-tributary news that in 2001 Roebuck pleaded guilty to three charges of common assault involving South African teenagers between April 1 and May 31, 1999.

While a cricketer in faraway Somerset, England, Roebuck had, according to The Courier-Mail, caned the young cricketers on their backsides after they failed to meet his standards during coaching sessions at his former home in Taunton.

The judge reportedly told Roebuck that he had abused his power and influence over the boys, who were far from home and far from friends and family.

Whether worse emerges about Roebuck's past remains to be seen.