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Richard (Richie) Benaud (1930–2015)

by Kersi Meher-Homji

Richie Benaud, 1959

Richie Benaud, 1959

National Archives of Australia, A1200, L33209

Richie Benaud was an all-time great all-rounder cricketer, a crafty leg-spinner who captured 248 wickets in 63 Tests, an attacking lower-order batsman who hit one of the fastest Test centuries, a brilliant gully fielder with amazing reflexes and a crowd puller wherever he played. He was also a courageous and victorious leader of men, who lost neither a Test series nor his cool.

He was the first cricketer to achieve the Test double of 2000 runs and 200 wickets and, as an all-rounder, ranks as one of the greatest. He also played a stellar role in the formation of World Series Cricket in 1977, which changed the face of international cricket, and, as a television commentator, became "the voice of cricket".

Richard Benaud was born in Penrith on October 6, 1930, the first of two sons of Lou Benaud, of French descent, and his wife, Irene (nee Saville). As a teenager, Lou had played cricket, but his bigger contribution was encouraging his sons Richie and John (also a Test cricketer) to play single-handed cricket by bowling a tennis ball against a wall and hitting it on the rebound.

Richie played his first competition match for Jugiong School when he was six. At eight, he represented the First XI of Burnside School near Parramatta and later led the team to a competition win. The great Australian spinner Clarrie Grimmett was his inspiration and he recalls in Willow Patterns (1969), "I think it was the avid watching of Grimmett more than any one thing that made me want to be a leg-spinner." Thinking Richie's hands were not large enough, Lou did not allow him to bowl leg-spinners until he was 17. Instead, emphasis was kept on line and length. He was promoted to first-grade for Central Cumberland at 16 and made a brilliant 98 in his second match. However, the way to the top was not easy.

There was a cracked skull, a broken thumb, a crushed finger and a ball in the mouth. But nothing could dent his determination to succeed.

The skull-cracking episode occurred when he was batting for NSW Second XI in Melbourne as a teenager. He was out of cricket for a year but it left no psychological scar.

Benaud's Test debut against the West Indies, in January 1952 in Sydney, was not impressive. Nor did he shine out in the Tests against South Africa in 1952-53. However, he had magical moments as a batsman in first-class matches on the 1953 tour of England. Former cricketer, now broadcaster

He had improved his batting stance by seeking Keith Miller's advice and practiced in front of a mirror. He hit a dazzling 121 in the Kingston Test against West Indies in 1955. His century came in 78 minutes, then the third fastest Test century. This onslaught prompted a Jamaican barracker to shout, "Do it to England, maan, not to us."

In the 1956 Lord's Test, Benaud hit a magnificent 97 and took what is described as the catch of the century when he snapped Colin Cowdrey in the gully.

Benaud rates this Test as one of his most enjoyable games and, as for the Cowdrey catch, he said "good as it looked, I never saw the ball other than as a blur from the moment it left Cowdrey's bat."

The same year Australia toured Pakistan and India. Shortening his run-up to save energy, Benaud took 7 for 72 in the Madras Test – his best Test figures – as Australia won by an innings.

Then followed his most successful tour to South Africa in 1957-58.

In the fourth Test, in Johannesburg, Benaud he scored 100 and grabbed nine wickets. He totalled 329 runs in five Tests and captured 30 wickets contributing to Australia's 3-0 win.

Bob Simpson recalls: "His practice sessions on that tour had to be seen to be believed. He laboured long after other players had left practice; a lonely figure bowling with a youngster to retrieve the balls aimed at a handkerchief placed on a good length spot. His legendary accuracy developed here."

Benaud was appointed captain against England in 1958-59 and regained the Ashes 4-0. He had pre-Test match meetings where every player's viewpoint was considered and grievances settled, and the excellent team spirit that existed was clear to the spectators. The fall of a wicket was greeted by ecstatic scenes in the middle, with the players swarming in to hug the bowler or fielder. Thus Benaud could be called the father of modern cricket with its extrovert expressions.

Benaud retained the Ashes in England in 1961 and in Australia in 1962-63.

Throughout the 1961 tour of England, Richie's right shoulder troubled him. Yet in the fourth Test in Manchester he converted a certain defeat into a victory. England was set 256 runs to win and was galloping towards victory at 1 for 150. It was then that Benaud produced his piece de resistance.

By going round the wicket and pitching in the rough of Trueman's footholds, he imparted an awkward lift. In an incredible spell, he took four crucial wickets for 13 runs. England lost 9 for 51 after being 1 for 150 and Benaud finished with 6 for 70. Following this tour, Benaud was awarded an OBE by the Queen.

In the tied Brisbane Test, Australia were set 233 runs to win. They were in trouble at 6 for 92 when Benaud joined Alan Davidson. Their 134-run stand tilted the match Australia's way when both were dismissed. In the final over with the scores level, the last two batsmen were run out.

Shoulder trouble forced Benaud to retire at 33 in 1963-64.

Benaud's contribution to cricket went further than the cricket field. Pakistan cricket benefited from his advice when he suggested to President Ayub Khan that they do away with matting wickets. This was done and it led to an improvement in their cricket standard overseas.

In 1976, as manager of the International Wanderers, Benaud toured South Africa and fought for multiracial cricket there. The news that South Africa would end apartheid in sport in 1980s so pleased him that he exclaimed, "the best news I have heard in years."

Less is known about Benaud the commentator. In England in 1956 he spent three weeks studying television broadcasting. He called it one of the best decisions he ever made. During the World Series Cricket days in 1977 he started commentating on Channel 9 and continued to do so till 2013. His distinctive voice was also heard on the BBC.

He was soon recognised as the game's shrewdest analyst, delivering his insights with the dry humour and incisiveness which became his hallmark. It was a pleasure listening to him because he did not state the obvious and never got over-excited as some other commentators.

His on-air wit was dry but perceptive. Once Australian wicket-keeper Rod Marsh dropped catches in a one-day international in England in 1981. When a streaker was grabbed by a frustrated Marsh, Benaud commented, "That's the first thing Marsh has caught today!"

In 1999 he was awarded a Logie for the most outstanding sports broadcaster.

In October 2013, Benaud, then 83, was involved in a car crash and did not recover sufficiently to broadcast the Ashes series and in November 2014, he announced he was been treated for skin cancers.

Richie Benaud is survived by wife Daphne (nee Surfleet), sons Greg and Jeffery from a previous marriage and brother John.

Original publication

Additional Resources

Citation details

Kersi Meher-Homji, 'Benaud, Richard (Richie) (1930–2015)', Obituaries Australia, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University,, accessed 22 July 2024.

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