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Richie Benaud: Simply a class apart

By Angus Fraser

Published 11/04/2015

Top of his game: Richie Benaud watches an Ashes Test at the Oval in London
Top of his game: Richie Benaud watches an Ashes Test at the Oval in London

As a rather limited lower-order batsman I did not have many bat-makers asking me to use their equipment. Because of this I spent the last few years of my career having a bit of fun with my bats. Each season Salix would supply me with a plain, stickerless piece of willow and I would then have a caricature carved into the back of it.

The caricature varied but above the carving was an empty box where I could place a message on a piece of tape. The aim was to catch the attention of the stump cameras and to have a bit of fun with the commentary team.

The first message I placed in the box was for the attention of Richie Benaud. It simply read "G'day Richie". I believe my slightly childish behaviour got a response from the great man, probably nothing more than "G'day Angus".

That Richie was the commentator I tried to engage with highlighted the impact he had obviously had on me.

It is only now as I sit back and think of my summer holidays as a teenager and the hours I spent lying on the sofa watching England play that I realise how his description and summary of the game helped grow my love for it. It was also the way in which he presented the Channel 9 highlights packages wearing his cream blazer.

Richie's style was unique. Unlike in the modern era, where three commentators are at times competing to be heard and attempting to out-quote each other, Richie only spoke when he had something to add to the pictures.

His was a style wonderfully suited to cricket. Unlike many sports, cricket is not always a 100mph, in-your-face, confrontational game. The sport ebbs and flows. It has quiet periods, sessions where stock is being taken and the next move thought through.

Many people attend or watch cricket matches to relax, which seems the polar opposite to football, where fans turn up to get things off their chests by screaming and shouting at their team or the opposition for 90 minutes.

Listening to Richie, however, was soothing. It was a joy.

Only the other day I came across a clip of myself bowling on YouTube. The clip was in the summer of 1990 when Sachin Tendulkar drove me through mid-off for three to complete his first international hundred.

Richie was commentating at the time and he summed up the situation magnificently. "Tendulkar on 98," as I ran in to bowl. "And there it is ... a Test match hundred for Tendulkar ... aged 17 years and 112 days ... one of the youngest ever to hit a Test match hundred ... an innings of temperament, skill and delightful strokeplay."

As ever he summed up the moment beautifully. The commentary was calm. There was no screaming or hyperbole. It was factually and technically accurate. It was simple.

I was fortunate enough to spend a couple of lunches and dinners in his company.

Away from commentary he was exactly the same as when he was on air.

He was polite, immaculately dressed and did not dominate conversations or want to be the centre of attention. Even though he was an outstanding cricketer and captain, he was very modest and said little.

But when he did speak or tell a story you listened. And it was in his storytelling that his genuine love for cricket came through. The tales came from his heart.

"Legend" is a word that is too often used to describe the achievements of an individual but cricket has lost a legendary figure.

Belfast Telegraph

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