15 March 2016

Peter Roebuck is a decent cricket commentator

It was a different World Cup.  A different format.  Happened four years ago.  Peter Roebuck wrote a column.  And it had little to do with cricket.  Things have changed, but one wonders if Roebuck has.  In any event, there will always be Roebucks around and it's good to get a hang of who they are and what they do. This piece was first published in the Daily News (March 15, 2011). 

Peter Roebuck is a former cricketer turned newspaper columnist and radio commentator. A former captain of Somerset, Roebuck scored 17,558 runs in 335 matches including 33 centuries and 93 fifties. He had even captained England in a one-day match against Holland and was once (1988) named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

Peter Roebuck certainly has the credentials to talk about cricket. Reading what he has written for www.theage.com.au immediately after Sri Lanka beat Zimbabwe in a Group A match in the ongoing Cricket World Cup (‘Straightforward on the field, but it’s never just about the cricket’), one wishes that he did what he knows best, ie talk cricket.

He begins by saying that Sri Lanka’s victory indicated ‘the state of play in both cricketing dispensations but said little about the countries themselves’. Now that’s funny. England struggled to beat the Netherlands, tied with India, beat South Africa and was pipped at the post by Bangladesh in the matches completed so far and the results do indicate the state of play in the respective countries but not about the countries themselves. Goes without saying, Peter. Barring the occasional innovative stroke by an irrepressible maverick batsman, sledging and other forms of gamesmanship and of course match-fixing and spot-fixing, games are played within the rules and as such are ‘straightforward’. Such things don’t say anything about the countries themselves, good or bad.

Peter Roebuck
Now if someone really wanted to comment on say the political economy of the Netherlands, he or she would do some background reading, interview a cross-section of key informants, spend some time walking around, taking stock etc. If you don’t have the time, energy and inclination to do so then the best would be to stick to what you can claim some expertise in, in Peter’s case, cricket.

This is what he says about Sri Lanka:
‘As far as Sri Lanka itself is concerned, the cure is, in some eyes, worse than the disease. On the surface, two things stand out - the number of soldiers on the streets and the cleanliness of those streets. Well-informed friends insist the peace is a facade hiding a government that allegedly fixed the elections with the help of IT experts from Iran, promptly imprisoned the Leader of the Opposition, the general responsible for crushing the Tamil Tigers and then set about controlling the media and fiscus. Certainly, critics and journalists have a perilous time hereabouts.’

His well-informed friends seem to have been short on facts and given to wild conjecture or else Peter has recorded it all wrong. The Leader of the Opposition Ranil Wickremesinghe was never arrested. The former Army Commander, Sarath Fonseka, played a key role in crushing the LTTE, yes, but he was not ‘responsible’ for the fact. He was one of several who had to work together to defeat militarily the world’s most ruthless terrorist outfit.

Heroism does not give immunity from the law, though and Peter who is supposed to have studied law at Cambridge University ought to know this. Regardless of whether political expediency played a role in what followed the election, Fonseka did constitute a serious threat to national security, a fact that Peter’s friends seem to have glossed over or else left out of the conversation.

There are soldiers on the streets, particularly close to World Cup venues. That’s nothing but authorities determined not to take chances. Remember Lahore. The fact is that Colombo has seen a gradual relaxation of security measures (soldiers, check-points, barricades and so on) since the LTTE was defeated. This too, Peter’s friends have failed to mention.

As for ‘fixing elections with the help of IT experts from Iran,’ Peter might as well have said aliens were involved. Critics have a perilous time, true, not because of any repression but because many of them have had close relationships with terrorists, operated in collusion with anti-Sri Lankan Forces here and abroad, engaged in fraud, benefited by millions of rupees pumped into their respective organizations by donors partial to the LTTE and so on.

I’d really like to know who Peter’s ‘well-informed sources’ are because I am pretty sure they are or are associated with the disinformation mafia whose activities prolonged conflict and helped legitimize the LTTE (for a while).

I would like to think that Peter was gullible and not mischievous, although it is hard to give such blank cheques to someone who offered to coach young boys with the catch that disobeying ‘house rules’ would result in corporal punishment and who in fact caned three such boys on their buttocks at different times and had to suffer a suspended jail sentence. Still, I would give Peter the benefit of the doubt and concede that there was no ill-will in his comments.

Only one thing would settle the issue though. Peter Roebuck is now required to talk about ‘things outside cricket’ in all countries playing any games he covers or comments on. He can start with England.

He could talk about the prison system. He could talk about foreign policy. He could talk about the illegality of invading Iraq, complicity and guilt in all manner of crimes against humanity in that country as well as in Afghanistan.

He could comment about how the British Foreign Office sent emissaries to do business with armed groups seeking to oust Muammar Gaddafi in Libya. He could also ask how the Chief Spokesperson of the LTTE (a proscribed terrorist organization) was allowed to headquarter in London for decades. Perhaps I am asking too much.

Malinda Seneviratne is a freelance writer who can be reached at malindasenevi@gmail.com