I woke up this morning to the news that Richie Benaud had died.
Ever since as a young boy I began to follow (and in my younger days play) the game of cricket, Richie Benaud appeared to be always there, somewhere near in the background. In recent years he has become known as the voice of cricket in many quarters around the world. He is known primarily these days as a cricket commentator from the top drawer, to rate alongside other legends, such as John Arlott and Brian Johnston, but he was a whole lot more. He played cricket at the top level, being a superb leg spinner and a more than useful batsmen for a very good Australian side. I recall in my younger days, when cricket lovers sometimes indulged in the exercise of choosing a world best cricketing XI, that Richie’s name often featured – he was that good! He was also a superbly astute and innovative tactician and remarkably successful Test captain. In the development of the game he was there in the forefront. While at the time I was critical of his part in promoting the Kerry Packer cricketing revolution and accelerating the onset of commercialism in the game, I can reflect now that he knew the game had to develop and had the vision as to how this best might happen. One might say that some of those developments were positive and that might not have been the case if a cricket lover, as Richie was, was not involved.
But it was as a commentator I remember him best, having listened to countless hours of him commentating on the game. Like Arlott and Johnston before him, he had his own inimitable style that was pleasing to the senses, modest yet compelling, relaxed, reassuring, controlled, measured, uniquely Australian manner, and one always got the impression he was completely impartial and wanting more than anything for good, fair cricket to be the winner. He was also the master of his craft, in this case cricket commentating. It is a shame his efforts were mostly confined to television, for in recent years Test match cricket was not broadcast live on the BBC and, besides which, it was long my habit to listen to commentary on the radio while doing other things. What I found impressive about Richie was his superb confidence, his understated approach to describing the game who always added to what was happening on the pitch, rarely wasting words on the banal or obvious, and his remarkable knowledge which was par excellence. He was the archetypal professional and one the new generation of sporting commentators would do well to follow, although impossible to reproduce. I also got the impression that this was a decent fellow, with a joy of living and a mischievous sense of humour despite playing a “straight bat” whenever he spoke. With few exceptions, he was respected and looked upon with affection by the many whose lives he touched. I miss and mourn his passing, a sentiment that no doubt many others share, and in Richie cricket has lost a great champion and exemplar of the game. Already tributes are pouring in; I anticipate many more. Thank you Richie Benaud for all what you have given us!