Today it was announced that former Australian Cricket Captain, Richie Benaud had passed away after a long illness.
There is nothing we can say that won’t be covered by other, better writers. For the better part of his 84 years of life he towered above Australian cricket, a mentor to all that would follow – both on and off the field.
I grew up knowing two things about Richie Benaud. One thing I learnt from my father – Richie Benaud was the greatest captain this country had ever seen. Intelligent and graceful but still aggressive. The colourful cricket that Australian’s played under him is often credited with breathing new life into test cricket. This leadership is even more amazing given it occurred in what could’ve have become a post-Bradman, post-war malaise; from a seemingly weak position in the early 1950s, Australia again became the dominant team in world cricket under his astute leadership. Fast bowling great Alan Davidson told The Sydney Morning Herald:
“Nobody every analysed or knew the opposition like Richie did and it was the same thing with his own team – he knew what every player in the side could do and that allowed for him to make decisions which, to the outsider, who wasn’t a cricket expert, seemed ‘different’.
Not just a great captain, Benaud was one of Australia’s great all-rounders – becoming the first player to score 2000 runs and take 200 wickets. He was part of the great Australian tradition of leg-spin bowlers, despite not possessing the turn of a Tiger O’Reilly or Shane Warne. And whilst he only ever existed in black-and-white for me, his 248 wickets at 27 make it clear he was an exceptional bowler. A handy batsmen, he also scored three test centuries.
The second thing I knew about Richie Benaud was his face, and his voice, meant cricket to me. It’s funny how when you’re young you get confused when things that have been one way for your whole life suddenly change. But I remember vividly being upset whenever the cricket started and a non-Richie face – first Chappelli, then occasionally Simon O’Donnell, then finally Mark Nicholas when Richie stopped presenting for good – was staring back at me.
Many things will be said about his commentary in the next few days – his unique choice of words, his dry humour, his ability to say nothing because that’s exactly what was needed at the time were all notable. And it is clear that he was the most influential person in cricket in the post-war period. But the thing I always remember was that Richie’s presentation always made it feel like he was welcoming you into his world. Even during rain, the highlights packages almost seemed to me like he’d just stuck in a VHS from his own collection, such was his amazing knowledge of each game. International cricket seemed to exist in a universe separate to this young boy growing up in suburban Canberra, and Richie was the guide to the game – allowing you into a world that it seemed like he nurtured to life.
Vale Richie. You were one of the reasons we love this game. Thank you for sharing it with us.