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.

The Ashes Washup: I got it wrong and I love it!

On 19 November last year, in advance of the start of the Ashes series, I posted “5 Fearless Predictions” on this blog apropos key performances that I believed would play a large factor in who won the Ashes.

Those predictions were:

  1. There would be only one winning in the Broad v Australian crowd battle and the winner’s team would likely win the Ashes.
  2. Michael Clarke would average less than 35.00 with the willow.
  3. The Australian XI for the Sydney test match would be different to that of the Brisbane test match.
  4. Kevin Pietersen will score a hundred and will offend everyone.
  5. No matter what happens the “Three Stooges” will survive.

I also had been fairly overt in my dismay, at the time, about the selection of Mitchell Johnson. Obviously I got that one woefully wrong along with my predictions about Michael Clarke’s performance, possible changes to the Australian XI and Pietersen scoring a hundred.

I had also posited that the result would be, according to my heart, Australia to win 2-1 and, according to my head, England to win 2-1.  Again: I was wrong.

One of the most mimicked lines of Richie Benaud is “It’s a funny old game cricket” and this completed Ashes tour has certainly taught us that.

Ordinarily I would have a case of the “dirts” because I got my predications wrong but how could I be negative about a 5-0 whipping of the English? Simply put: I can not be!  That said, I am now working hard to manage my own expectations of the Australian team for the coming series in South Africa.  That series will not be anywhere near as easy as this one just completed was and any hint of complacency will be exploited by the best team in the world, for the moment.

A final point: I never in my wildest dreams thought England would be so bad on this tour.  Mitchell Johnson, in his acceptance speech for the Man of the Series award, commented that England never stopped fighting during the series: Ben Stokes aside I respectfully disagree.  England’s capitulations in both innings in the final test of the series were indicative of a side that had given up: nothing more and nothing less.  I genuinely hope that Andy Flower and Alistair Cook can get the Poms back on track because whilst I love nothing more than beating them, seeing competitive cricket against them in previous series has been a joy.