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Cricket muted

Cricket muted
Richie Benaud, Test great and pioneering broadcaster, died in his sleep on Friday at the age of 84 after fighting skin cancer and the debilitating effects of a car accident near his Sydney seaside home in 2013. Benaud holds a revered place in international cricket, lauded as a ‘national treasure’ and the most influential Australian cricketer and broadcaster of his era.

Benaud, who was made an Officer of the Order of the British Empire (OBE) in 1961 for services to cricket, led Australia in 28 of his 63 Tests and did not lose a series as captain. His adventurous leadership was encapsulated by the famous tied Test with the West Indies in Brisbane in 1960. Australia were chasing 233 with 320 minutes of play left, and Benaud’s instinct was to go for an improbable win. He came in to bat at a perilous 92 for six and hit a rollicking 52, as Australia counter-attacked until a run-out on the last ball left the scores tied.

The dashing leg-spinning all-rounder epitomised his cricket by playing with his shirt unbuttoned to his chest and his collar upturned. Benaud said recently he was paying the price for a cricket career in which he did not wear a hat or sunscreen against the often fierce sun. “When I was a kid we never ever wore a cap. I wish I had. You live and learn as you go along. I recommend to everyone they wear protection on their heads. Eighty-four-year-olds don’t seem to mend as well as they used to,” he said.

The first man to complete the double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets in Test cricket, Benaud combined sport with life as a journalist for The Sun and the News of the World from 1956 until his retirement as a player in 1964. He learned reporting on the police beat and began his broadcasting career on BBC Radio in 1960, moving to BBC Television three years later. He also had a stint on Britain’s Channel 4.

Benaud said of his laconic commentating style: “The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see.” He memorably featured in a series of television advertisements for the Australian Tourism Commission in 2004. The commercial showed him in a range of scenic locations saying his cricketing catchphrase, “Marvellous”. The much-mimicked Benaud was renowned for appearing before the TV cameras adorned in his beige jacket and he never took umbrage at his many impersonators. “I never talk about that. The only objection I have is if someone uses my name or image and tries to sell something,” was Benaud’s response when asked about the satirists.

After retiring from playing Benaud divided his time between the summer cricket seasons of Britain and Australia, working in television and writing books and for newspapers. Overall Benaud played in or commentated on approximately 500 Tests, as he noted in one of his final interviews in Britain.
Through his work in England and commentary for commercial television in Australia, he became the iconic voice of the Channel Nine team from the first summer of media baron Kerry Packer’s trailblazing World Series Cricket in 1977-78. He retired from international commentary after the 2005 Ashes series, partly as a protest against the game’s disappearance from free-to-air TV in Britain.

Benaud remained a mainstay in Nine’s cricket coverage until the 2013 car accident sidelined him, before he announced in November last year that he was fighting skin cancer. It was Benaud’s distinctive voice that provided a moving tribute to Test cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died when struck by a bouncer last November. Benaud finished his narration with a poignant “forever, rest in peace, son”. Benaud’s witty observations, he once described Glenn McGrath as being dismissed “just 98 runs short of a century”, and elongated vowel pronunciations were affectionately impersonated by fans the world over.

BEST OF RICHIE


Here are some of the most memorable lines uttered by Richie Benaud during his incredible five-decade-long commentary career

* And Glenn McGrath dismissed for two, just ninety-eight runs short of his century

* After a streaker ran on field): “There was slight interruption there for athletics”

* “The slow-motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was really travelling”

*  “His throw went absolutely nowhere near where it was going”

*  “From our broadcasting box you can’t see any grass in the ground at all. It is simply a carpet of humanity”

* “Well, Bruce Reid isn’t the worst batsman there’s at international level? But those wh’re worse wouldn’t need to hire Myer Music Bowl to hold a convention”

*  (On a Justin Langer six) “He’s not quite got hold of that one. If he had, it would have gone for nine”

*  “Captaincy is 90% luck and 10% skill. But don’t try it without that 10 per cent”

*  (On Shane Warne’s Ball of the Century in 1993) “Gatting has absolutely no idea what happened to it. (He) still doesn’t know”

*  (On commentary) “The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see”

*  (On commentary) “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up”

* (After detection of skin cancer in 2014) “Eighty-four-year-olds don’t seem to mend as well as they used to”
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