RIP Richie Benaud: Bigger than Bradman and now gone

Source: Getty Images

Source: Getty Images

Richard “Richie” Benaud passed away today aged 84.  A life spent playing, promoting, improving and talking about cricket has come to an end.  A wonderful innings has has come to close.

Much will be made in the coming days about the legacy of Richie Benaud.  The more I think about it the more I keep coming back in my mind to this tenet: there has been no bigger influencer in the game of cricket in Australia than R Benaud.

Many will decry this view and immediately repost with the name Bradman but I implore those who take that position to rethink it.  The reasons are simple and obvious but are worth repeating:

  • As a cricketer Benaud was a dynamic and effective all rounder as well as an attacking and innovative captain who did not lose a series as captain.  He changed the way we played from the dourness of 50s and his aggressive style continues to be seen in the way we play the game today.
  • Following his retirement as captain Richie Benaud became the voice and the face of cricket not just in Australia but also in England.  When one turned on the TV to watch the cricket there would be Richie, letting us know with an economy of word unusual in the world of sports commentary what we had missed.
  • Benaud was a key driver of the World Series Cricket revolution and was one of its key proponents.
  • In the background, based on anecdotal evidence, Benaud was a key advisor and mentor of captains and players in Australia.

All of those factors add up to a lifetime that has lead to Richie Benaud becoming a name that is synonymous with cricket.  He has brought cricket into our homes and influenced generations upon generations to pick up a bat or bowl a ball.  More than that, Richie Benaud was Australian cricket’s moral compass.  There was no issue in the game that Benaud did not provide an opinion on.  If you need convincing watch Richie’s reaction to Trevor Chappell’s underarm delivery: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=vvGHC7REkdM .

More to all of this is the fact that Richie Benaud was also an Australian cultural icon.  The beige jackets, the catch phrases, the hair and the curl of the bottom lip are all parts of the Benaud persona that are firmly ingrained in the psyche of the people of this country.

I concede that Don Bradman was the greatest player to lace a boot, not just for Australia but world around.  I also concede that his career post playing was one devoted to the enhancement of the game in Australia, even, in a strange way his conduct in forcing World Series Cricket.  His legacy continues to endure and will forever through his average of 99.94.

That said: when was the last time you heard or saw someone trying to imitate Don Bradman? Benaud imitations are a daily, if not hourly, event during cricket season.

We adored Richie Benaud and we revered him.   When we reflect on cricket in Australia it may well be judged, for those of the TV era, as having two periods: that with Richie Benaud in the commentators chair and that without him.  The game, and our broader community, is surely the worse for his loss.

Vale Richard Benaud.  You will be missed.

Australia in South Africa 2014: 1st Test ponderings

Let’s get this out of the way at the outset: this win by the Australian cricket team was their best performance in at least the last 24 months.  Yes, Australia defeated England but this was a win against the best team in the world.  A team that had not been bested in 19 test matches was just destroyed by the Australian team.

Mitchell Johnson bowled better than at any time during the Ashes series and that is saying much.  He bowled with pace and hostility but also, when the pitch changed, he threw in some excellent variations.  The ball of the game that showed Australia’s out and out domination of this game was in the last innings: Hashim Amla, one of the best batters of the last 5 years, was struck by a Johnson thunderbolt on the grill of the helmet.  This was a ball that Amla did not appear to see it and was rocked on his heals which is exactly what the Australians did to South Africans all game.

Another example of Australia’s dominance of this game and, indeed, an indication of just how well Australia played is that this test is the first in this current winning streak in wish Brad Haddin was NOT needed to play a significant role with the willow.

For the South Africans, Graeme Smith will be rueing his decision at the toss which will go down in history as a akin to Nasser Hussian’s toss imbroglio at Brisbane in 2002.  He will also be rueing lapses in the field that are so unlike the South African team that one suspects that they have to be an aberration at best. There is much to work on and much improvement in this camp: they must come up with a plan for dealing with Mitchell Johnson and they must find a way to get Dale Steyn fit for the first morning of the next test match.  They also must seek to reverse the trend of Australia coming back from adverse circumstances which has been the cornerstone of their wins in the last 6 test matches.

This is a golden 6 months for Australian cricket: every strategy that Michael Clarke seems to put in place, at least since the first day at the Gabba in November, has come off.  The batters that are being plucked from Sheffield Shield cricket without semblance of form are performing at the top flight. I can not remember the last time an Australian team played the same four bowlers for 6 test matches in a row.

There is a short turnaround between this test match and the next: the second test commences on 20 February.  As I wrote yesterday, Australia will select the same  team for the second test regardless of the fitness of Shane Watson.  South Africa have to look at their spin bowler selection and also have to look at what they do at the top of the order.  I expect both Petersons to be missing from the next test perhaps with Amla to open.

This result, more than any of the last six wins, has the feel about it that Australia has defeated a team of, at least, equals rather than a team in decline.  If the same result arises in the test match though then questions will be asked about whether this is a South African team in decline too.  It certainly will be interesting to see how the second test evolves right from the toss of the coin.

Planes, wifi and customer service

I write this from a Qantas plane high above Queensland on my way to Cairns for work. I have gone in recent times from a weekly plane traveller to one with more of a sporadic use of my frequent flyer membership. That change in usage of planes for travelling has brought more sharply to mind the issue of connectivity on planes.

You see, when I was travelling weekly, I loved the down time that being unconnected from the world gave me: I could shut my eyes and relax away from the phone calls and emails and just spend time thinking. It was great and, at the time, I really needed that time.

Now though, the time spent on planes does nothing but irritate me. Forget for the moment the general lateness of planes coming out of Brisbane Airport (another 25 minutes late departure today) and the fact that if I don’t get an exit aisle seat sitting in economy class requires me to shape my body like an origami crane to sit with anything that resembles comfort. Those facts are things I have no real cavil with and have to expect from travelling on planes.

What really irritates is the fact that we still are forced on planes to shut down all electronic devices and are required to place all devices in flight mode. I understand the rationale: electronic signals might effect the navigational instruments on planes. I wonder though: is this risk an actual risk or an imagined one? Have you ever heard of a plane crashing and the reason given by the aviation authority’s is that someone broke the rules and was playing with his iPhone? I know I haven’t and, given that I do spend time on planes regularly, I am sure I would have remembered it.

Is the slavish devotion by airlines to the "no devices" paradigm more to do with customer service than safety? If that were the rationale it would be two fold:

1. I can think of nothing worse than sitting next to someone speaking on the phone for 2 hours so the fact that there is no phone connectivity does have the ability to improve my experience.

2. If I am not connected then I, as a passenger, can not jump online to whinge in "real time" about the service I am receiving which has the effect of sanitising the flight experience.

Those rationales are all well and good but is it too much to ask that I have access to my email whilst I am in the air? I know there are airlines in the US who have rolled out limited wifi services (I have seen people I follow on my twitter feed wax lyrical about them) and wonder why we don’t have the same on the "nations carrier"? If cost is an impediment I would gladly pay more but I suspect it is not cost that is the issue. I return to the customer service imperative noted about and wonder if a keenness for a lack of "live" criticism is behind the lack of a move to in plane wifi?

I know we are only 7 years into the iPhone age of doing business but airlines seem to be way behind in servicing their clients needs when it comes to business travel: if they weren’t I would be posting this blog immediately rather than when I take my iPad off flight mode upon landing.

That fact raises another question for Australian business travellers: wouldn’t it be nice to have a high speed train to get on for business trips? Again: I know I would pay a premium to get on a train: I would avoid the need for taxis to and from airports for a start and I am sure that such a train would have zero impediments on cellular use. I know Qantas would never let that happen but it is nice to dream about.

Australia names it squad for South Africa and Sheffield Shield form counted for nothing!

I wrote this morning about the selection of the Australian Squad to travel to South Africa for the test series commencing on 12 February 2014.

George Bailey has been dropped from the squad.  The new batsmen selected are Shaun Marsh and Alex Doolan.  The reserve bowlers selected are James Pattinson and Jackson Bird.

As I noted in the post this morning and reaffirm in the title to this post: form in Australia’s first class competition, the Sheffield Shield, has counted for nothing at the selection table. The top run getters in the domestic game in this country have not been selected. Rather, this series of scores has seen Shaun Marsh return to the test squad:

  • 6 and 47
  • 4 and 13
  • 127 not out
  • 42 and 4
  • 1 and 4

How does one regain a place in the national team when scoring only 248 runs in 5 matches at an average of 31.00? Is scoring two half centuries against a mediocre English bowling attack at the end of a shattering season really enough? That is all that Shaun Marsh has done this season.

On the side of the bowlers: am I alone in being completely lost by the strategy of the NSP here? Jackson Bird has not played in a first class game, test matches included, since he played for Australia in August at Chester-le-Street.  His season thus far has consisted of T20 games and one List A fixture for Australia A.  James Pattinson has not played the longest form of the game since he was injured at Lords in July.  He too has played some T20 games and has now appeared for Australia in an ODI.  How can either player be match fit and, more importantly, match hardened if they are called on in South Africa?  With Ryan Harris’ knee a match by match proposition, isn’t it too much to expect the replacement fast bowlers to step in and bowl, potentially 25 overs a day, with only very limited limited overs cricket under their belts?  I just don’t get the thinking!

Cricket Australia needs to have a significant look at the Sheffield Shield competition in this country if the best that is coming from it is a player who averages 31.00 and no one with the ball.  That is really what the NSP is saying with this team isn’t it: no bowler in first class cricket is good enough to be in the squad so we will select two players who have not played in the long form for over six months instead.  Or am I missing something?

The Ashes: 5-0 Australia

The title of this post says it all doesn’t it: Australia have won this Ashes series 5-0 and the breadth of the margin gives the best indication of the chasm between the form of the combatants.  Right from Day 1 of this series at the Gabba, England seemed to be unable to put away Australia when they were in front and so that trend continued in each test match of the summer.

Much has been made of our close the teams have been: and I agree that they are closer than the 5-0 result suggest, it is just that Australia has won every decisive moment of this series.  Every time Australia was in trouble with the bat there was a partnership that wrested the advantage from the English.  Conversely, every time England was in trouble they lost wickets in clusters and could not recover.

That fact alone shows you the difference in the line ups in this series: one was ruthless whilst the other was bereft.  Just as Australia was excellently coached and captained, it would appear that England lost their way both in the dressing room and on the field.

There were some fantastic individual performances in this series but to go through them would be to denigrate what was one of the best team performances I have seen from an Australian sporting team let alone a cricket team.  They were all united by Coach Lehmann and Captain Clarke with one purpose: the destruction of the English and, as a team, they succeeded in that purpose.

For England, there is only one shining light to come out of this tour and that is in the personage of Christchurch born Ben Stokes.  We will be seeing much more of him in years to come one suspects.

I have watched a lot of cricket and I have seen a lot of cricket live and I will say what I said after the first test of this series at the Gabba: I have never experienced crowd involvement in a game of cricket like that which I experienced at the Gabba and that involvement of the crowds has continued through each test right up until the end of the series today.  Australia has brought the passion of its fans, me included, back to the ground and the game, so much so that the anguish in the early hours of winter mornings in July and August is long forgotten.

Now, we have a tour to South African to look forward to which will present a new and different challenge for the Australian team.  With bated breath, I can not wait to see how that series unfolds between two of the heavyweight teams of the game.

The Ashes: Where to from here for Australia?

The question of what next for Australian cricket has one that has been on the lips of many since the completion of the “2013 Lords Massacre”. I have a longer blog about the state of cricket in this country in the works at the moment but really that looks at the broader issues effecting the game.

My bigger concern for present purposes is how do we win at Old Trafford. Actually, forget winning … How do we compete at Old Trafford? There were plenty of players who failed at Lords but we still have a test to play in 9 days time AND, stop laughing English fans, the Ashes is still there to win.

Calls for mass sackings and the drawing in of players from outside the squad are at best knee jerk and at worst stupid. I mean: has Australia become as bad as England in 1989 yet? I do not think so!

I think we need to do the last thing everyone is expecting us to do: change nothing! That’s right: you read it correctly … CHANGE NOTHING! Keep the same 11 for this next test match and empower them with the task of bringing Australian cricket back from the edge of the abyss.

The only player I would countenance leaving out is A Agar. The experiment has failed: opposition spin bowlers took 11 wickets at Lords and he took none so despite how many magazine covers his image and that of his girlfriend sells it is probably time for an experienced spinner to step in.

England think they have the Australian team and fans broken and maybe they do have some of Australia’s fandom on brink BUT there is a lot of cricket to be played yet and they have not won the series yet.

So let’s keep this team together and empower them to get the job done. They can compete and, you never know, they may just surprise us fans with something special!