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What Indians Would Remember Roebuck For

Portrait of Peter Roebuck of Somerset, May 1981. (Adrian Murrell/Allsport) Portrait of Peter Roebuck of Somerset, May 1981. (Adrian Murrell/Allsport)

Portrait of Peter Roebuck of Somerset, May 1981. (Adrian Murrell/Allsport)

Former cricketer and journalist Peter Roebuck, who passed away today, would be known to many cricket followers in India by an incendiary column he had written in 2008, asking Ricky Ponting to be sacked as Australia's Test captain following the events of the Sydney Test.

The game was dogged by controversial umpiring, charges of racism levelled at Harbhajan Singh and Australia's boorish on-field behaviour, but it ended in a stunning win for the home team in the dying moments of the final day.

While the Australian team and press were busy celebrating the win, Roebuck stood out as the lone dissenting voice. Calling Ponting and his men a "pack of wild dogs", he said the win was an embarrassment to Australian cricket. His acerbic views on the matter won Roebuck many followers in India.

A clip from that column:

Ricky Ponting must be sacked as captain of the Australian cricket team.

If Cricket Australia cares a fig for the tattered reputation of our national team in our national sport, it will not for a moment longer tolerate the sort of arrogant and abrasive conduct seen from the captain and his senior players in the past few days. It was the ugliest performance by an Australian side for 20 years. The only surprising part of it is that the Indians have not already packed and gone home.

That the senior players in the Australian team are oblivious to the fury they raised among many followers of the game in this country and beyond its shores merely confirms their own narrow and self-obsessed viewpoint.

Doubtless, they were not exposed to the messages that poured in from distressed enthusiasts aghast to see the scenes of bad sportsmanship and triumphalism presented at the SCG during and after the match. Pained past players called to express their private disgust. It was a wretched and ill-mannered display and not to be endured from any side let alone an international outfit representing a proud sporting nation. Make no mistake, it is not only the reputation of these cricketers that has suffered — Australia itself has been embarrassed.

The notion that Ponting can hereafter take the Australian team to India is preposterous. He has shown not the slightest interest in the wellbeing of the game, not the slightest sign of diplomatic skill, not a single mark of respect for his accomplished and widely admired opponents. Harbhajan Singh can be an irritating young man but he is head of a family and responsible for raising nine people. And all the Australians elders want to do is to hunt him from the game. Australian fieldsmen fire insults from the corners of their mouths, an intemperate Sikh warrior overreacts, and his rudeness is seized upon.

In the past few days, the Australian captain has presided over a performance that dragged the game into the pits. He turned a group of professional cricketers into a pack of wild dogs. As much can be told from the conduct of his closest allies in the team. As usual, Matthew Hayden crossed himself on reaching three figures in his commanding second innings, a gesture he does not perform while wearing the colours of his state. Exactly how he combines his faith with throwing his weight around on the field has long bemused opposing sides, whose fondness for him ran out a long time ago.

This wasn't the first controversy Roebuck found himself in the middle of. In the mid-80s, he, as Somerset's captain, decided not to renew the contracts of their overseas players Viv Richards and Joel Garner. It led to a public fall-out with Ian Botham, another of Somerset's greats. Botham moved to Worcestershire.

In his final column for Sydney Morning Herald, Roebuck asked the Australian selectors to keep their nerve and not dump out-of-form players just because the public demands so.

He wrote:

Ponting has been hitting the ball superbly in practice and has been countering the fastest bowlers with aplomb. In the middle he has been missing straight balls because he is hurried and out of position. He remains convinced that it is a bad trot, not permanent, but evidence to the contrary is piling up. He needs to score heavily at the Wanderers.

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