Slices of CricketMartin Chandler |
Author: Roebuck, Peter
Publisher: George Allen and Unwin
Rating: 4 stars
Peter Roebuck was still not half way through his First Class career when his first book, Slices of Cricket, appeared. It was crystal clear then that Roebuck was a gifted writer, and with the benefit of hindsight the book’s dedication, that begins “As this may be the only book I write” is rather amusing.
What you get with Slices of Cricket are 27 essays by Roebuck himself, a brief pen portrait of the author by Somerset teammate Nigel Popplewell, which portrays Roebuck as an eccentric even in those days. Finally there is an irreverent glossary prepared by another teammate, who like Roebuck made his post playing career a combination of broadcasting and journalism, Vic Marks.
The essays are on a variety of subjects but Roebuck is at his best when writing profiles of those he knows well. Three of those in this selection, of Ian Botham, Viv Richards and Brian Close, are quite outstanding. There have been full length books written about all three that fail to capture the essence of the man in the way that Roebuck does in around 2,000 words.
There are also a few match reports, although that description rather fails to do justice to the quality of writings which are very much more than sterile accounts of the matches concerned. The best of these is the story of a Combined Universities side’s victory over Yorkshire in a Benson and Hedges Cup game in 1976. The students’ man of the match was a diminutive 22 year old Sri Lankan, Gaj Pathmanathan. Yorkshire struggled to 185 in their 55 overs following which Pathmanathan opened the batting with Roebuck. He proceeded to blaze away for 58 in just 14 overs, England’s Chris Old being savaged for 36 in just four overs along the way. What Roebuck’s engaging digression about his opening partner does not mention is that in as many as eleven other List A matches for the Combined Universities Pathmanathan scored just 16 more runs, which puts in context the delightful quote from Geoffrey Boycott that concludes the piece. Boycott had wished Roebuck luck before the game started but not, as he put it after the defeat, that much bloody luck
In other chapters Roebuck visits the odd far flung corner of the globe, and takes the occasional glimpse at the game’s lower levels. He also dwells from time to time on the cameraderie amongst teammates and indeed opponents within the County game in the late 70s and early 80s. It is all a far cry from the events of 1986 when Somerset dispensed with the services of Richards and Joel Garner and, after that decision was confirmed, Botham resigned in protest. Roebuck stood firmly behind the club’s decision and the rift that caused in his relationship with Botham, which had been such that they had co-authored a book earlier that year, It Sort of Clicks, was to prove permanent.
Once Roebuck left the game and became a full time writer/broadcaster he became noted for his trenchant views and his views often polarized opinion. Those who are used to that part of Roebuck’s oeuvre will be surprised at the essentially parochial and often whimsical side of his character that produced Slices of Cricket. Nonetheless nobody should be deterred from reading, or as in my case re-reading, the first book of a man who, prior to his sad and untimely death, was one of cricket’s best and most highly regarded writers.