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The old edition of David Frith’s book By His Own Hand has Peter Roebuck (above) saying: “Cricketers are supposed to be simple, even gung-ho, in sexual matters as in everything else. And yet cricket — and most cricketers — has its dark secrets, its skeletons.” © AFP

On November 12, 2011, Peter Roebuck ended his life by jumping from his sixth floor room in Southern Sun Hotel, Newlands, Cape Town. Curiously, two decades earlier, he had written the foreword to a book by David Frith named By His Own Hand. Arunabha Sengupta traces the tragic irony connecting the events.

In 1991, celebrated cricket writer David Frith compiled the stories of 80-odd cricketers who had taken their own lives. He named it By His Own Hand. And soon after that, he came face to face with what turned out to be one of the creepiest ironies of life.

It had been more a labour of compulsion rather than of love. Frith was obsessed about the shadow of self-destruction that seems to haunt the noble game. Right from the very beginning of the sport, cricketers have killed themselves with a frequency significantly higher than in the normal populations. Frith found it a difficult book to write, but ploughed on through the annals of morbidity. And in the end, he produced one of the most well researched and off-beat studies of the ‘steady trickle of tragedy’ that claimed the lives of numerous cricketers from Arthur Shrewsbury to Sid Barnes. At the back of his mind, Frith also nurtured a faint hope that the work might somehow help to stem the tragic flow.

And for the foreword, he turned to Peter Roebuck.

At that point of time, Roebuck was just coming to the end of a long stint for Somerset. A career in journalism awaited him. He obliged Frith and wrote a sterling foreword littered with insights — and, in retrospect, grim omen and gruesome irony.

In 2001, Frith’s book was updated. Many more cases of past cricketing suicides had been unearthed in the interim ten years, and some more had taken place since the first publication. By then, Frith had decided a fresh interpretation was necessary. Mike Brearley was asked to write the foreword for the new version of the book which was renamed Silence of the Heart.

One of the reasons why the foreword was rewritten was the distance that had grown between Frith and Roebuck, mainly due to the rivalry of the respective magazines they edited — the Wisden Cricket Monthly and The Cricketer.

However, old editions of By His Own Hands still carry the Roebuck foreword. And one shudders when one thumbs through a volume and comes across Roebuck saying: “Cricketers are supposed to be simple, even gung-ho, in sexual matters as in everything else. And yet cricket — and most cricketers — has its dark secrets, its skeletons.”

As one reads the words, the striking similarities to the circumstances behind Roebuck’s own suicide seem chilling.

And finally, a section towards the end of the foreword echoes with the ironies that meet at the fissure of life and death.

Writing about a particularly difficult cricket season which he himself documented in It Never Rains, Roebuck notes: “To me it was a way of saying ‘Goodbye To All That’. Once written it was no longer true about my life … Since It Never Rains some people have predicted a gloomy end for this write. One former colleague said so to my face in September 1986. It will not be so.”

It reads like a triumphant proclamation of victory against the challenges of life.

But, Roebuck proved himself wrong on the night of November 12, 2011 — tragically, by his own hands.