Chasing Shadows

Published: 2015
Pages: 298
Author: Lane, T and Cartledge, E
Publisher: Hardie Grant Books
Rating: 4.5 stars

I always find it best to avoid books released straight after a tragic death of a famous cricketing personality – Hookes, Cronje, Woolmer. The fear being that the book is written without all the facts established and far too much supposition. With Chasing Shadows, the fact the authors waited four years after the death of Peter Roebuck suggested a little more in-depth research and so I thought it might be worth a look.

My gut feeling was spot on as the research by authors Tim Lane (Former ABC cricket commentator) and Elliot Cartledge is as thorough as any book written. They interviewed all the main characters which included an unknown former girlfriend, family members and perhaps most importantly the complainant linked to the circumstances of Roebuck’s death. The end result of their extensive research presents a portrait of Roebuck that is, given his cloak and dagger existence, infinitely more informative then Roebuck’s own autobiography Sometimes I Forgot to Laugh.

Roebuck presents as an intelligent, sexually awkward, secretive person with views of the world which swing from socialist to a fervent supporter of corporal punishment. This latter ideology leads Roebuck into some of the darkest periods of his life and ultimately to his death.

The authors treat Roebuck’s disciplinary proclivity with as much understanding as possible and try to unravel the influences in his formative years which contributed to his beliefs. Roebuck was convicted for assault after he used a cane to discipline young adults from overseas living with him in England. This conviction saw him leave England and as a result he appears to be held in much higher esteem in his adopted country, Australia.

It seems he did not learn his lesson from his English conviction and reintroduced the same punishment for young men who stayed in his care in South Africa after he established a charity house in that country. The authors managed to interview or obtain interviews given by some of the students who lived in the accommodation provided by Roebuck in South Africa.

The students who were interviewed were all supportive of their former benefactor and it should be noted that Roebuck’s main motivation appears to have been one of philanthropy. He paid all the running costs of the facility for these disadvantaged young men, which amounted to approximately 100k per year.

There is, perhaps unfortunately, always the underlying suspicion that part of the reason Roebuck provided for these young men was due to a latent sexual attraction. Again the authors by dint of research provide a balanced account of Roebuck and his sexual ambiguity which ranges from heterosexual to asexual.

The book is not only a dissection of the possible reasons and events which led to Roebuck’s unfortunate death. There is also coverage of his entire life with a significant focus on his cricket career, which includes his final fractious years as captain of Somerset and his part in the sacking of legends Joel Garner and Viv Richards and the subsequent resignation of Ian Botham.

This ‘spill’ earned Roebuck a lifelong enemy in Botham. The authors dedicate an entire chapter to the feud which does neither antagonist credit and left Roebuck paranoid that Botham was behind every misfortune that befell him. Botham and his enmity towards Roebuck is well covered; although in the end it was the only disappointing aspect of the book as the authors fail to illicit Botham’s response to the death of Reobuck. It was a surprising oversight and I had to trawl the internet to discover the cricking knight’s opinion.

Apart from the minor issue of Botham’s reaction, I found no other grounds on which to criticise Chasing Shadows and was particularly impressed with some of the quotes contained in the book. This was always an area where the authors could have erred as the quality and proliferation of Roebuck’s writing may have easily overshadowed the author’s efforts. An example of quotes about Roebuck:

“A house with fierce dogs outside” was how Viv Richards described the Roebuck personality.

“I’ve never met a man who has read so much and knows so little” Joel Garner on Roebuck in response to the West Indian’s dismissal from Somerset.

I was fairly confident that we already had our awards sorted for cricket books in 2015 but now the CW team will have to reconsider as I will be advocating Chasing Shadows. It is clearly one of the very best cricket books of the year.

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