Farewell Sir Richie
03 Sep 2005
By: Archie Mac
When they discuss the doyens of Cricket writing the name of Cardus is mentioned, but then people will challenge this with names like C.L.R. James or Robertson Glasgow. In Cricket radio broadcasting, John Arlott is first named, but then other greats such as Alan McGilvray or Brian Johnston will be lovingly remembered, but when it comes to naming the doyen of TV Cricketing commentary, there is only one name that comes to the mind of Cricket fans from England and Australia, that name is Richie Benaud.
The omnipresence of Richie Benaud on the TV screens of British Cricket lovers, will come to end at the completion of the 5th Ashes Test this summer. No more will they hear that long drawn out 'Jussst' (as in 'he jussst made his ground, but my goodness it was a close run thing') no longer will they hear that drawl understated humour, which has made Richie Benaud the beau ideal of the TV Cricket commentator. Australian fans will still have at least one more Cricket season of the great man, in fact rumour has it he will not retire until the end of the next English tour to the antipodes (let's hope so).
I once watched a TV comedy skit show, in which they 'sent up' Richie, one of the jokes made at Benaud's expense was that he was born in 1933, this brought guffaws of laughter from the studio audience, presumably because this would make Benaud such an old man! To old in fact to be on the box. In reality this was a case of fact being stranger then fiction. Richie Benaud was actually born on the 6th of October 1930, making him 74. No wonder generations of Cricket fans cannot recall a time when Richie Benaud was not telling them; 'welcome back here to Lord's, for this the second days play'.
Richie Benaud tells the story of a 12 year old boy asking him for an autograph, after receiving it and before scampering away the young boy asked 'Mr Benaud did you ever play Cricket for Australia?' Benaud not knowing whether to laugh or cry simply answered 'yes'. 'Oh' said the boy, 'That's great. I just thought you were a Cricket commentator'. I wonder how many people watching and listing to Benaud do not realise what a great captain and player Benaud was.
Richie Benaud played 63 Tests for Australia, 28 as captain. He made 2201 runs at an average of 24.45 and with his accurate leg spinners claimed 248 wickets at 27.03. He is still considered by many to have been Australia's greatest ever Test captain. Benaud was a tough Cricketer coming back after a fractured skull suffered early in is career while batting in a second XI Match, the injury kept him out of Cricket for the rest of the season. He was also a fearless fielder in close (no helmets) and once required stitches after being struck in the mouth while fielding in a Test Match. Benaud was a crowd favourite when batting and once hit 11 sixes in a first class Match. The old black & white photos of Richie from his playing days shows him mostly bare headed, and with his shirt unbuttoned almost to his navel.
Richie Benaud started his involvement with Cricket commentary way back in 1956 when he enrolled in a 3 week course with the BBC to learn about the then new medium, television. By 1963 Benaud was employed as a 'summariser' by the BBC for the tour of the West Indies, featuring the great Garry Sobers. The following year Richie was back as a front line commentator, with the BBC and has been the face of Cricket ever since. Benaud stayed with the BBC until they televised their last Test series in 1998, and has been recently associated with channel 4.
Richie Benaud has worked with the who's who of commentators and former Cricketers; from Peter West and Jim Laker to David Gower and Geoffrey Boycott. They are all in agreement that the calm unruffled Benaud persona is no accident with Benaud preparing meticulously and leaving nothing to chance. They also mention the famous Benaud understated wit. An example: Mike Atherton was closing in on a most deserved hundred, but Alec Stewart was threatening to leave him high and dry as he typically smashed the ball to all parts. Boycott advocated that Atherton should farm the strike so as to reach his own milestone, adding that he never played that way in is day, but that he had read about such ideas in a book. After a pregnant pause Benaud said 'Autobiography Geoffrey?'
Was Richie Benaud always a Cricketing oracle? Here is a perhaps apocryphal story about the young Richie (20) and his boyhood hero Keith Miller. Benaud had just started working with Miller on the magazine A Sporting Life. An impressionable Benaud asked, 'Can you spare a minute, Mr Miller? I have a question to ask you', 'Fire ahead' said Miller. 'I have begun calling in on a kiosk on the way to work, I buy a grannie smith apple and eat it on the train. Do you think this will help me with my Cricket next summer' inquired Benaud. 'I don't know whether it will help your Cricket, Richie. I'm no expert on apples, but it shouldn't do your health any harm' replied Miller.
The above story seem so completely incongruous with the confident sagacious persona we see and hear on our TV screens. Did he just grow into the finished product or was it a lot of hard work? A little of both I imagine. And what farewell should the English and Australian sides give to Richie Benaud during his last Test Match on English soil? All doffing their caps towards the commentary box? Perhaps. But I think they have already given Richie what he would like, the greatest Ashes series of them all. Well that's what Richie Benaud has declared it, and he would know, having seen or played in every series since 1953. Let's hope they can produce one more great Test, so we can say goodbye in style to 'The voice of Cricket'.
Books used in the research for this article
Benaud on Reflection by Richie Benaud
Richie Benaud, Cricketer Captain, Guru by Mark Browning
And Welcome to The Highlights by Chris Broad
The A-Z of Australian Cricketers by various Authors
Keith Miller The Golden Nugget by R.S. Whitington