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Crisp style, dry humour, commentating genius

Crisp style, dry humour, commentating genius
Even as cricket commercialised, filling gaps in play with sponsors’ advertising, piped-in music and other presumptuous forms of ‘entertainment’, Benaud liked nothing more than for the game to speak for itself. “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up,” said Benaud of his simple approach to calling the game in a 50-year career in radio and television.

Interventions, however, are eventually inevitable, a necessary relief from the suffocating buildup of ‘dead air’ in live coverage. Benaud would prove more adept than most at the delicate art of timing, of inserting the golden phrase that would perfectly illuminate the joy, and agony, of a wicket, or the sheer embarrassment of a cricketer flummoxed by an opponent. “Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to it. Still doesn’t know,” Benaud chimed during the Ashes test in 1993, as the England captain trudged off after being bowled by legspinner Shane Warne’s so-called “ball of the century”.

Timely interventions were a hallmark of Benaud’s career as a hugely successful captain and later a leading architect of World Series cricket in the 1970s, a breakaway circuit that changed the game forever. Though often credited as the most influential figure in post-war cricket, Benaud’s economy of words was at its most parsimonious when speaking of his achievements. For a man who began his media career as a police reporter and later a sports writer, Benaud famously shunned interviews, believing the spotlight should shine brightest on the players. He cut his teeth on a daily paper in Sydney, even as he sought to cement his place in Australia’s national team as a leg-spinning all-rounder.

Regarded as a rare but somewhat infuriating talent, Benaud toiled on the fringes for much of the 1950s, and after his team went home defeated from the 1956 Ashes series, he stayed on to train with the BBC as a broadcaster, hedging his bets lest his time in cricket proved shorter than hoped.Some eight years later, Benaud would play the last of his 63 tests at home against South Africa having made over 2,000 runs and taken over 200 wickets, unbeaten in any series in his 28 matches as captain.

Tactically astute and aggressive in his approach, Benaud’s captaincy would be credited with rescuing the game from torpor in the 1950s and setting a benchmark for a succession of attacking Australian skippers, from the Chappell brothers to Michael Clarke. Benaud’s heyday as player and captain came as Australia took on Frank Worrell’s West Indies in 1960-61, when the teams fought a classic series that included a first tied Test.

In November 2014, Benaud announced he had skin cancer with typical understatement. As host of Australian broadcaster Channel Nine’s coverage for decades, Benaud’s wit, catch phrases and succession of off-white blazers will live forever in the minds of cricket fans across the globe.
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