No 28: Richie Benaud

Richie Benaud is an absolute legend.

I thought about stopping there, thinking “job done, nothing more needs be said”, but why use 6 words when I could drag it out to 600?

Born in 1930, his playing days were over well before my time, but 248 wickets with his leg-spin at an average of 27 in his 63 tests represent figures that stand up to scrutiny at test level, an average of around 4 wickets per test is international class.

Handy with the bat too, with a top test score of 122, over 2000 runs at just under 25, including a pivotal role in the run chase that led to the first ever tied test in Brisbane in the 1960/61 series between Australia  and the West Indies ( a series described by many as the best ever).

A match winning spell of round the wicket leg spin at Old Trafford in 1961 maybe represented his finest playing hour on these shores.

I suspect, however, that the wider cricketing world today just knows of Richie as the doyen of the commentating art, the master.

Whilst Jim Laker was bluffing his way through the day (“What a magnificent way to go to a six” indeed!), Richie delighted us with his wry Benaudisms.

“It’s not the worst drop I’ve ever seen. But it’s in the top 5”

“How do you spell kamikaze?” (When Andrew Hilditch fell to yet ANOTHER hook shot in the 1985 Ashes series)

“Captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill. But don’t try it without that 10%”

“He’s given that some LarryDoodley”

“He’s not quite got hold of that. If he had, it would have gone for nine”

And many others, confectionery-stall based or otherwise (What exactly WAS a confectionery stall in 1981? Ice-Cream Van?)

You can (and probably should) criticise many of his BBC co-commentators in the day, Jack Bannister for his knowledge of all things Warwickshire, the madness of Ted Dexter (which I suspect could be a topic all on its own), the genial bufferishness of Tom Graveney, Max Walker on Channel 9 was just bizarre,  but I can never remember anyone criticising Richie.

When Tony Lewis asked him a question, he knew he wasn’t answering Tony, but the nation, as he turned to camera to address his public in that slightly angled, one-eye-bigger-than-the-other way of his. Richie spoke to you.

On the occasions when Ashes action down under was limited to a half hour highlights programme courtesy of channel 9 the next day, it was the reassuring presence of Richie that introduced it, often dressed in what appeared to be a lab coat (from the waist-up view that we got – it might have been a white jacket though). Personally I like to think he had just popped out from some internationally-important DNA research to do the cricket links, because he could if he wanted to, you know, he’s that good.

Witness his comments at the end of the footage of the famous Trevor Chappell underarm ball in the ODI v New Zealand. The footage is on you tube.

Kudos to the man also for his views on cricket remaining free-to-air, the reason he never joined the Sky team from Channel 4.

There are very few people in the world of sport that transcend the dislike of fans. Sir Bobby Robson was one, Richie Benaud (OBE in 1961, why not Sir?) is another.

And everyone who knows the game, knows Richie.

(The inspiration to write this blog was the tweeted news that Richie has been readmitted to hospital in January with a broken vertebrae after a car accident in October 2013 – get well soon Richie!)

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