Richie – The Man Behind The LegendMartin Chandler |
Author: Tasker, Norman and Heads, Ian
Publisher: Pitch Publishing
Rating: 4 stars
When I was young the soubriquet ‘Voice of Cricket’ belonged to John Arlott. By 2015, more than a quarter of a century after Arlott’s death and nearer forty years after he hung up his microphone for the last time, the entitlement to be known by it had undoubtedly passed to Richie Benaud. Unlike Arlott however Benaud belonged to the whole of the game, wherever it was played. Benaud was only identifiable as an Australian by the accent that marked his laconic and measured style of commentary.
That Benaud’s passing at the age of 84 in April 2015 would produce an outpouring of grief was inevitable, although the rush of books that followed was perhaps a slight surprise. We have had Wisden on Benaud and Those Summers of Cricket, both reviewed by Archie last year. The Australian edition of Richie – The Man Behind The Legend appeared at around the same time, as did an anthology of the great man’s own writings, Remembering Richie.
As a youngster I spent many hours poring over the game’s statistical records in Wisden and one that I noted time and again, and which was frequently mentioned when Ian Botham became only the third man to get there, was the all-rounders landmark of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets in Tests. Before Botham only Garry Sobers and Benaud made it, so I was always aware of just what a fine player Benaud was. As the years have passed and Benaud’s reputation as writer and commentator has grown his achievements as a player have been rather overlooked. There are many reminders here though, and Benaud was a great all-rounder in the fullest sense of the expression, being a fine fielder as well as one of the best ever captains.
Richie – The Man Behind the Legend is a collection of tributes. There are more than eighty of them and the sources are many and varied. Some are just a page or two, others stretch rather further, but none beyond eight pages. Inevitably in a book of this nature the various writers pay their tributes to Benaud, but the depth of all of the contributors’ affection for him, as opposed to mere admiration and respect, is striking. The most poignant are from two fellow commentators who have themselves since departed this mortal coil, Tony Cozier and Jack Bannister. The warmth of the words of former teammates brings a lump to the throat. I know not how much the editors might have assisted, but the writing is impressive and the thought that went into the stories must have taken many hours.
Of the survivors of the famous tied Test there is what amounts to almost a three line whip. Only Lindsay Kline, who was to survive his old skipper by less than six months, is missing. The memories of Alan Davidson and Neil Harvey are the most thought-provoking. Davo wrote he had an enormous influence on Australian cricket and on the many people whose lives he touched. I was just one of them. Ninna summed up his old friend as in every way a champion. Test captains and contemporaries from other nations whose thoughts are here are India’s Nari Contractor, England’s Ted Dexter as well as the mighty Sobers.
Most moving of all are the words of members of Benaud’s family. Brother John, also a Test player, contributes a foreword and a bit of family history. There are just a few words at the end from older son Greg, and the book concludes with rather more from younger son Jeff, including the words with which I will conclude; His legacy lives on in the game he loves and made better and stronger. And his legacy lives on in all of us who knew him, as a husband, son, brother, friend and colleague, or simply as the voice that reminded us it was summer.