Looking back, it seems odd that an Aussie would be anchoring live cricket on TV in England from the 1960s onwards. 50 years and 500 test matches in all. Could the old dart not find a homegrown talent to front the game? (I doubt it would happen in any other sport.) Richie Benaud’s professionalism seemed to personify the coverage way back before T20, pajama cricket and IPL took over. These days, it’s all superlatives, laddish laughter and mass exaggeration. You have keep the ratings up, so whatever game you are ‘calling’, it has to be incredible, brilliant and tragic all at the same time. Not for Richie. Richie’s tone was measured, informed and educational. His golden rule – ‘don’t talk unless you can add to the pictures.‘
Perhaps only John Arlott was in his class, although John was a radio man, all rasping poetry laced with red wine (“the field is spreading like missionaries”). Richie was a TV man, pressed jackets and perfectly groomed hair (which in itself was a piece of work, in the Donald Trump vein of carefully crimped ear comb over). My Dad would call him ‘frog face’ (mainly to wind up my Mum, who adored him), and my Mum would reply ‘Oh he’s lovely’. My wife thought he looked a bit like a Chinese Auntie.
But we could all listen to Richie all day. From his crisp welcome (‘Morning everyone‘) to his well chosen phrases (‘he’s hit that into the confectionery stand and out again‘) and signature ‘Marrrrvelous‘. The sideways glance (was his deaf in one ear?), the curled bottom lip (did the top one ever move?) Richie was the first to eschew convention and look directly into the camera when answering a question made by a fellow commentator (he never forget the audience at home mattered the most). He was a pro from head to toe, unruffled, and could fill 6 minutes or 6 hours keeping the viewers engaged and educated. He knew when the detailed exposition of the LBW law was required, and when it was not. He knew when words were needed and were not. Often, they were not. He was the master of the pause. The well timed punchline.
After 1985 Ashes series, the British commentators were up in the open air toasting the English victory. Richie was there as the only Aussie. As the English buffoons gloated, Richie sipped his champagne. ‘How does it taste Richie?’ asked an English colleague. ‘Of Ashes’ replied Richie. After that Australia would win series after series for almost 20 years, and never once would Richie become partisan. His commentary was always straight down the middle. No one seems capable of doing that these days.
I never got to meet him, but I did once see him in person. In the mid 80s he and his wife Daphne were on holiday in Italy. I was there too, at the end of a long summer. I did a second take as I spotted the great man queuing (like me) at a museum or somewhere. He looked back at me and half smiled. I did not want to interrupt the great man, and his lady wife, while on holiday, and he half nodded perhaps in recognition of the fact. I doubt many in Italy would have recognised them, perhaps that is why they were there.
I doubt the world will see his like again, and for that, the world is a little poorer.
Richie’s last appearance – for Aussie Day lamb… a classic
Richie Benaud highlights