Richard “Richie” Benaud (1930-2015).
I would like to add my own few words to the many thousands of tributes worldwide being paid to Richie Benaud, after news emerged this morning of his passing.
To a boy growing up way back in the ’70s, Benaud’s commentaries were an inspiration. His partnership with the long-passed Jim Laker on the BBC’s Test match coverage was perfect. Laker, the bass baritone Brit gave a feeling of the polite gentleman, while Benaud, who also possessed a languid style on the mic, had a warmth and humour about him, a respect for the game and was clearly a very deep thinker about the sport that he loved.
I was too young to see Richie play and definitely didn’t appreciate as a child just how good he must have been. The first man in Test history to pass 2,000 runs and 200 wickets. 63 Tests for Australia, captaining them in 28 and never losing series. He took on the best and very often won.
Those of us who are passionate about cricket have probably lost count of the times that those who are not suggest that our sport is like “watching paint dry.” But whatever the state of play on the field, Richie was just interesting to listen to. Always. You felt as though you were learning something about cricket, about the players, and you listened knowing that your next smile was never far away.
His understated style was the ideal foil, in other commentary boxes, for the likes of the excitable Tony Grieg or his great friend and teammate Bill Lawry. When Richie got excited, you knew it was exciting. He could sum up a moment succinctly, with well-chosen words, or he could allow a moment to be played out and leave the talking to the players. That was his genius. He just knew what to say, when to speak and how to say it. Isn’t that what great commentary is all about?
The first series that I clearly recall watching was England v West Indies in 1976, the battering of Greig’s England by a team that was taking over the world. “It’s a beautiful thing to watch,” said Benaud of Michael Holding’s bowling action amid his wonder-match at The Oval. “There are some bowlers who are beautiful. Some bowlers who are ugly and this fella I think is magnificent.” Those words stuck with me as an eight-year-old boy watching at home and remain rooted in the brain to this day. This man is worth listening to, I thought.
Other comments have become part of cricketing folklore. “Don’t bother looking for that, let alone chasing it. It’s gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again,” still ringing in the ears 34 years after Ian Botham’s Headingley heroics, plus of course Edgbaston’s “Greatest Test” as part of the 2005 Ashes series… Who was there again to record the moment? You guessed it. “Jones! Bowden! Kasprowicz the one to go and Harmison has done it! Despair on the faces of the batsmen and joy for every England player on the field.”
Authoritative, humorous, knowledgeable, stylish, understated, respected, loved by cricket fans worldwide and long-to-be-missed, Richie Benaud was a remarkable player, a remarkable broadcaster and a wonderful ambassador for his sport. A state funeral for the New South Welshman is a fitting tribute by his home nation.