I’m still shocked about the news on Peter Roebuck. I enjoyed his work, even though it was often uneven (as Sambit Bal notes in his surprisingly frank obit). I’m scared to hear what revelations the coming days will bring; I hope the cricket world isn’t about to endure a “Joe Pa” scandal.
But I just wanted to say a quick word about what a good cricket writer should do. In the past, I have compared Test cricket to a novel, and a good cricket writer could do no better than follow the literary critic’s cue. Just as the critic asks, “Why does an author pick these particular words as opposed to others at his disposal,” the cricket critic should explain why cricketers respond to events on the field they way they do. Why do bowlers suddenly have one good spell, only to fall away in a few hours? How does a batsman encounter a threat — a swinging ball; lack of form; a doosra — and still manage to score runs? How does a captain maneuver his field to out-think a batsman?
Not many cricket writers do this well (I certainly don’t have the expertise yet). Simon Hughes (esp. in his role as The Analyst) perfected cricket criticism, but most commentators rely on vague, untested notions like “momentum” and “pressure” (as The Old Batsman notes in a wonderful post). Wasim Akram always used to say: a batsman batsman would tell him, “Line and length, line and length,” but Akram would always ask, “But why am I not bowling line and length? What’s wrong with me today?” That’s what we should be trying to answer.