David Frith: 'Cricket has its dark secrets, its skeletons'

Poignantly, 20 years ago Peter Roebuck wrote a foreword to a book about suicides, as its author recalls

There is something creepy about all this. Just over 20 years ago I felt compelled to write the first major study of suicide among cricketers, a book which simply demanded to be written. Among my countless files, the shoebox containing cuttings and research notes concerning self-destruction in cricket was near to overflowing. Whatever was going on here? The poor souls who had destroyed themselves were not mostly from the Victorian era, as had traditionally been believed. There seemed to be a steady trickle of tragedy, and somebody had to look into it. It was the most difficult of books to write, but I felt it incumbent upon myself to get it written and perhaps to draw some sort of illuminating conclusion. Most of all, I hoped somehow that tragic flow could be stemmed.

Peter Roebuck seemed an interesting type. He was just winding up his Somerset career and had journalistic aspirations. I invited him to write a foreword. What he wrote then takes on a strange significance now in light of the tragic events in Cape Town three days ago.

His foreword was illuminating. While I believed it was the loss of cricket which hurt men, sometimes fatally, he believed that cricket itself drew people of a fragile nature in the first place. The evidence, of course, was too disparate and inconsistent to argue to a conclusive degree.

And yet what rings out now is what Roebuck wrote then: "Cricketers are supposed to be simple, even gung-ho, in sexual matters as in everything else. And yet cricket – and most cricketers – has its dark secrets, its skeletons."

We shudder at this when we contemplate the background to the recent tragedy, that ominous brief police statement.

Unhappily, my book By His Own Hand was in need of an update 10 years later, for many further cases, new and old, had been unearthed. And in subsequent years there have been yet more.

The former England captain and psychotherapist Mike Brearley was asked to write a foreword to Silence of the Heart, partly because the theme needed a fresh interpretation, and partly, I confess, because Roebuck had distanced himself during the magazine war – my Wisden Cricket Monthly versus "his" Cricketer.

Our last friendly contact was in a press match in New Zealand, where I found myself batting with him. He was solicitous between overs, advocating this and that to survive on a dodgy track against keen Kiwi bowling. Then he got out. I couldn't stifle a mean chuckle.

I have no idea why he annoyed some people, other than to suppose that he simply lacked what one might term a natural and relaxed sense of humour. I asked myself: does a high degree of intelligence bar an ability to have a belly laugh as opposed to a sneer?

Our last contact was during the 2006-07 Ashes series in Australia, a live radio lunchtime waffle at the SCG, in the chair the ABC's Jim Maxwell, whom Roebuck was to summon desperately to his room on that tragic night on Saturday. Characteristically, Peter at one point took it upon himself to wave Asia's flag, claiming that the ICC umpires were unfairly singling out bowlers only from that region for bowling with illegal actions. Somehow I restrained myself from challenging him.

Most poignant of all now is to reflect on Roebuck's almost triumphant claim in that foreword: "Some people have predicted a gloomy end for this writer," he wrote of himself. "It will not be so."

David Frith is author of By His Own Hand (Stanley Paul, 91) and Silence of the Heart (Mainstream, 01)

Suggested Topics
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

Fifa corruption: The 161-page dossier that exposes the organisation's dark heart

The 161-page dossier that exposes Fifa's dark heart

How did a group of corrupt officials turn football’s governing body into what was, in essence, a criminal enterprise? Chris Green and David Connett reveal all
Mediterranean migrant crisis: 'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves,' says Tripoli PM

Exclusive interview with Tripoli PM Khalifa al-Ghweil

'If Europe thinks bombing boats will stop smuggling, it will not. We will defend ourselves'
Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles: How the author foretold the Californian water crisis

Raymond Chandler's Los Angeles

How the author foretold the Californian water crisis
Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison as authorities crackdown on dissent in the arts

Art attack

Chinese artist who posted funny image of President Xi Jinping facing five years in prison
Marc Jacobs is putting Cher in the limelight as the face of his latest campaign

Cher is the new face of Marc Jacobs

Alexander Fury explains why designers are turning to august stars to front their lines
Parents of six-year-old who beat leukaemia plan to climb Ben Nevis for cancer charity

'I'm climbing Ben Nevis for my daughter'

Karen Attwood's young daughter Yasmin beat cancer. Now her family is about to take on a new challenge - scaling Ben Nevis to help other children
10 best wedding gift ideas

It's that time of year again... 10 best wedding gift ideas

Forget that fancy toaster, we've gone off-list to find memorable gifts that will last a lifetime
Paul Scholes column: With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards

Paul Scholes column

With the Premier League over for another year, here are my end of season awards
Heysel disaster 30th anniversary: Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget fateful day in Belgium

Liverpool have seen too much tragedy to forget Heysel

Thirty years ago, 39 fans waiting to watch a European Cup final died as a result of a fatal cocktail of circumstances. Ian Herbert looks at how a club dealt with this tragedy
Amir Khan vs Chris Algieri: Khan’s audition for Floyd Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation, says Frank Warren

Khan’s audition for Mayweather may turn into a no-win situation

The Bolton fighter could be damned if he dazzles and damned if he doesn’t against Algieri, the man last seen being decked six times by Pacquiao, says Frank Warren
Blundering Tony Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

Blundering Blair quits as Middle East peace envoy – only Israel will miss him

For Arabs – and for Britons who lost their loved ones in his shambolic war in Iraq – his appointment was an insult, says Robert Fisk
Fifa corruption arrests: All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue

Fifa corruption arrests

All hail the Feds for riding to football's rescue, says Ian Herbert
Isis in Syria: The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of President Assad and militant fighters

The Kurdish enclave still resisting the tyranny of Assad and Isis

In Syrian Kurdish cantons along the Turkish border, the progressive aims of the 2011 uprising are being enacted despite the war. Patrick Cockburn returns to Amuda
How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields: Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape the US

How I survived Cambodia's Killing Fields

Acclaimed surgeon SreyRam Kuy celebrates her mother's determination to escape to the US
Stephen Mangan interview: From posh buffoon to pregnant dad, the actor has quite a range

How Stephen Mangan got his range

Posh buffoon, hapless writer, pregnant dad - Mangan is certainly a versatile actor