A death foretold



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To a greater and lesser degree all sportsmen die in hotels. That night Woolmer went back to his room with its silences and accusing walls, an isolated figure trying to come to terms with futility.

- Peter Roebuck

These words were penned by well known cricket writer and commentator Peter Roebuck while relating the mysterious death of Pakistan Coach Bob Woolmer. Uncannily, they foretold the fate that awaited the author, who jumped to his death from a hotel in South Africa amidst accusations of sexual misconduct.

Writing for Zee News’ cricket column on 23rd March, 2007 (Read Archive Article: Cricket was Bob’s life canvass), Roebuck had eerily begun the piece by describing Woolmer in a manner that fitted his own personality:

Bob Woolmer was a softly spoken cricketing philosopher with an observant, probing mind ….No-one who met him could dislike him yet few knew him intimately. Throughout he was in love with the game of bat and ball, endlessly thinking about it, talking about it….

In a sense Roebuck, through some extracts of his article, had inadvertently written his own obituary – describing his own personality and his final destiny. The former English cricketer had also in his frequent communication with me during the Word Cup 2007 exposed some parts of his hidden personality and his tendency to get into noire moods.

He was an intensely introvert personality and deeply attached to the game. He had admitted to me that he was going into depression after the Woolmer episode and had even entertained thoughts of quitting writing on cricket altogether.

Some extracts of mails we exchanged reveal a man who was prone to get disturbed and withdraw into a shell.

When I asked him if any more pieces were coming up, he wrote a one liner on March 29, 2007:

“None. Am losing interest after Woolmer.

When prodded again, he answered April 14, 2007: “Ok. But have lost interest I am afraid. Hope it does not last forever!”

It was understandable that Roebuck being an authoritative voice in the world of cricket was hit by the tragic death of Woolmer. But it also was equally true that he tended to go into silences and it took him a while to emerge out of it.

I had followed up his gloomy mails with one encouraging him to come to grips with the reality, however ghastly it was.

Roebuck did not respond, but about 12 odd days later sent me a piece on South Africa’s poor performance and called his piece ‘Valley of Death’.

Obviously death had been on his mind constantly.

Peter Roebuck, the way I knew him, was a quiet, straightforward and a down to earth person. The best part about him was that he never appeared petty in matters related with money. Sometimes big celebrities show very small character when it comes to following up on payments from media houses. More often than not, it was I who used to remind him of his reimbursement for columns that he wrote for our website.

Most of the money that he earned, anyway, used to go to fund a charity to promote education for under privileged children in Africa.

While one cannot comment on the sexual allegations that are making headlines, it is possible that Roebuck wrangled in his bosom over issues that may have perturbed him. The greater likelihood is that he could not come to terms with his name being maligned.

The accuracy of allegations, idea of morality and speculation about what goes on in a person’s mind are extremely difficult questions and often impossible to answer. But we can sometimes look back and wonder if a person dropped hints through the carousel of his thoughts that may have been mouldering him.