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Richie Benaud became an icon who will be loved forever

Posted on | April 14, 2015 | 4 Comments

I would love to have played under Richie Benaud. He would have been firm and very clear-thinking. I have talked to Bill Lawry and Bobby Simpson, Ron Harvey and Ray Lindwall, and they say he gave his players clear instructions – and that’s all you ever want from a captain.

Richie would get a table when his team were batting and do his mail but always made sure his players could watch him. He was a leader, not just a captain in name only. If you can carry your men with you, in business or the armed forces or sport, it is a gift and he had it. You might not always agree with him but he gets you to play for him – that’s the key to leadership.

One time, when he was leading Australia in Pakistan, he told his 12th man that he was the most important player in the team. When we are batting, Richie said, I want you to go down to the ground ahead of the team in the morning and make sure the matting is pulled tight – there was no grass in Karachi in those days. If the ground staff were allowed to leave the matting loose the Pakistan bowlers would be able to make the ball move all over the place. The 12th man hadn’t to leave until the umpires came out, then he could have the rest of the day off.

 

The first couple of times I met him was when I was playing for Yorkshire and England, but injured. When John Snow broke my arm in 1967 and I missed the Gillette Cup final, and when Bob Willis broke my finger in 1972. Both times I got invited as a special guest commentator with Richie and Jim Laker at BBC TV which was then black and white.

The thing about Richie was that he very rarely offered advice until he was asked to. When you asked him, he was very generous and helpful. I was interested in commentating long before I finished playing because I loved cricket and it seemed to me a job in summer and winter that was not exactly work.

 

He gave me advice that has stayed with me for ever. He said: ‘Don’t talk too much, let people enjoy the pictures, and when you speak, try and give the viewers something to add to their experience of watching. Always remember to speak about the picture that the viewer sees, never talk about things the viewer can’t see, and the viewer is paramount. Pause just before the bowler gets to his delivery stride – this allows the editors to cut for highlights and replays, and be aware in commentating that microphones may be live even when they shouldn’t be. If you swear off mike in the commentary box, never assume that it’s switched off and it might go out to the public’.

Richie was a man of careful delivery, very succinct, with a dry sense of humour, and very astute about everything going on. When he was not on air he often gave the impression that he was working on his computer and might have missed something, but it was a big mistake to assume that. He never missed a trick.

I remember once, when England had been beaten very badly by Australia at Lord’s. The next day there was a Natwest match televised at Edgbaston, and at teatime someone thought about Tony Lewis interviewing Richie to get an Australian view, to fill 15 minutes of the interval, which is a long time on TV. Tony Lewis said to Richie, ‘What do England have to do to improve?’ Richie replied, ‘They have to practise their batting, their bowling and their fielding’. Tony said, ‘Anything else?’ Richie said, ‘No, that’s enough to be going on with’. Then there were 13 minutes left to fill!

He was respected, adored and loved by an older generation who had known him almost since the start of cricket on television. Cricket watchers felt comfortable with him on air. He fronted the BBC highlights show for years and became an institution, an icon.

Although a former Australian cricketer – and deep down he admitted he always wanted Australia to do well – he made a point of staying neutral in his commentary, and I think this endeared him to everybody.

TV has changed: in this modern era we have got music between overs, DRS and spider-cams, players miked up during matches, and Richie just embraced it all. He accepted that these newfangled gimmicks affect how some people view the game, especially young people, but he knew they didn’t change the game itself. So he took it in his stride and he didn’t change his style.

I only batted against him once because 1961 was his last tour of England and he finished Test cricket in 1963. It was on the MCC tour of Australia in 1965-66 and he played for the Prime Minister’s XI in Canberra. Wally Grout was the wicketkeeper, and I remember Richie set me up with a couple of leg-spinners just short of a length which I jumped on and pulled for boundaries. Then a third one, very similar, I went to pull and it was a fast top-spinner and hit me on top of the back leg right in front. Luckily it was too high and going over the top and I got away with it. He just looked at me, and I knew he was a crafty bugger, even though he had been retired for two years.

He was like Peter Alliss, part of the fabric of his sport. You cannot think of cricket without Richie. Peter, still going strong, and Richie have made such a fantastic impression that they will be remembered and loved for ever.

 

 

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