Chasing Shadows: The Life and Death of Peter Roebuck by Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge

To thousands of cricket lovers around the world, Peter Roebuck was known and admired as one of the game’s most erudite and informed commentators and observers; a fierce critic of incompetent officials and a fearless crusader against corruption; and, formerly, as a professional cricketer of skill and achievement whom many astute judges declare was desperately unlucky never to have played Test cricket for England.

But after Roebuck pleaded guilty in 1991 to a charge of common assault against three young African men in his care, darker rumours began to swirl around his life: was there a sinister aspect to his nature; was his passionate commitment to underprivileged youngsters a front for predatory appetites? Or was Roebuck, as he often claimed, the victim of a set-up, framed and discredited by his many powerful enemies in the world of cricket and politics?

All these questions came exploding once more into the limelight when, in November 2011, while covering the Australian tour of South Africa, Roebuck was charged with the sexual assault of a young Zimbabwean man – in response to which he took his own life by jumping from his hotel window.

With care and sensitivity for the reputation of a dead man now unable to speak for himself – and yet with an unflinching preparedness to follow the evidence, even if it led to the realisation of unpalatable truths – Tim Lane and Elliot Cartledge try to unravel the enigmatic Gordian Knot that was Roebuck’s life: the controversial public figure who shunned human fellowship and personal intimacy; the accomplished cricketer and commentator who was assailed by crippling self-doubt and insecurity; the compassionate and generous humanitarian who professed admiration for, and practiced, disciplinary regimes many would consider abusive and inhuman.

Regardless of whatever verdict the reader ultimately reaches about Roebuck’s guilt or innocence, this is a meticulously researched and investigated book that reveals the terrible tragedy of a complex and tormented life, brilliantly accomplished in some respects, yet piteously deficient in others. Heart-rending in its profoundly human brokenness that never at any stage rationalises or makes excuses, this is a compelling and moving portrait of a tormented soul who remains disturbingly opaque, even in death.

(c) Copyright Brendan E Byrne 2018. All rights reserved.