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

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The Independent Online

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.