James Lawton: Brilliant but tragic talent who could not stop to smell the flowers

There is a hollowness in knowing the press box will never again hear Roebuck's insight

There will always be a raw horror attached to the death of Peter Roebuck, who threw himself off the balcony of his Cape Town hotel room at the weekend, and it goes beyond the detail of a deeply gifted but anguished man's passing.

It is about the pain as well as the exhilaration of living if you feel and see things in a certain way; if for you the old advice of the great American golfer Walter Hagen, that everyone should stop once in a while and smell the flowers, is always going to prove unworkable because it implies that all men have the capacity to flick off the switch. Some men, and axiomatically they are troubled and passionate, do not. Roebuck was always one of them.

This, however, does nothing to lessen the hollowness brought by the news that a dinner table or press box in Sydney or Johannesburg or Lord's will no longer be illuminated by one of his shafts of left-field insight or that the pages of this newspaper, among others, will never again be enlivened so richly by the force and the wit of his cricket analysis.

He invested so much of a fine intellect in the mysteries of the game he made his life, and why this was so, whether it had anything to do with an escape from areas of life where he may have been less sure of his identity, will always come into the category of a speculative lunge. It is enough maybe for this one of so many admirers to say that no collision with the former captain and opening bat of Somerset was less than challenging and that, invariably, it was laden with the sense of an extraordinary man of both generosity and exceptional intuition.

As a potential captain of England, he once told me of his idea to transport a whole generation of the nation's best young cricketers to the Australian outback, where they might cut down trees, herd cattle and generally toughen up for the challenge of world-class competition. No, he was not likely to get the job, which in some ways was a pity, not least if it had somehow diverted the course of a brilliant but ultimately tragic life.

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

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
The ZX Spectrum has been crowd-funded back into play - with some 21st-century tweaks

The ZX Spectrum is back

The ZX Spectrum was the original - and for some players, still the best. David Crookes meets the fans who've kept the games' flames lit
Grace of Monaco film panned: even the screenwriter pours scorn on biopic starring Nicole Kidman

Even the screenwriter pours scorn on Grace of Monaco biopic

The critics had a field day after last year's premiere, but the savaging goes on
Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people used to believe about periods

Menstrual Hygiene Day: The strange ideas people once had about periods

If one was missed, vomiting blood was seen as a viable alternative
The best work perks: From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)

The quirks of work perks

From free travel cards to making dreams come true (really)
Is bridge the latest twee pastime to get hip?

Is bridge becoming hip?

The number of young players has trebled in the past year. Gillian Orr discovers if this old game has new tricks
Long author-lists on research papers are threatening the academic work system

The rise of 'hyperauthorship'

Now that academic papers are written by thousands (yes, thousands) of contributors, it's getting hard to tell workers from shirkers
The rise of Lego Clubs: How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships

The rise of Lego Clubs

How toys are helping children struggling with social interaction to build better relationships
5 best running glasses

On your marks: 5 best running glasses

Whether you’re pounding pavements, parks or hill passes, keep your eyes protected in all weathers
Joe Root: 'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

'Ben Stokes gives everything – he’s rubbing off on us all'

Joe Root says the England dressing room is a happy place again – and Stokes is the catalyst
Raif Badawi: Wife pleads for fresh EU help as Saudi blogger's health worsens

Please save my husband

As the health of blogger Raif Badawi worsens in prison, his wife urges EU governments to put pressure on the Saudi Arabian royal family to allow her husband to join his family in Canada