Richie Benaud

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Richie Benaud : biography

6 October 1930 –

At the start of the 1963-64 season, Benaud announced that it would be his last at first-class level. The first Test of the season, against the touring South Africans, saw high drama as Australia’s left arm paceman Ian Meckiff was called for throwing by Colin Egar and removed from the attack by Benaud after one over. Benaud did not bowl Meckiff from the other end, and at the end of the match Meckiff announced his retirement. Benaud took 5/72 and scored 43 in the First Test, but then injured himself in a grade match, so Bob Simpson captained the team for the Second Test and won the match in Benaud’s absence. Upon his return, Benaud advised the Australian Cricket Board that it would be in the better interests of the team if Simpson continued as captain for the remainder of the season. Benaud took 3/116 to complement scores of 43 and 90 on his return in the Third Test in Sydney. His final two Tests saw no fairytale finish, yielding only four wickets and 55 runs. His batting had been steady though with 231 runs at 33, but his bowling unpenetrative with 12 wickets at 37.42.

Benaud was awarded life membership by the New South Wales Cricket Association, but he returned it in protest in 1970 when his younger brother John was removed from the captaincy. In 1967-68 he captained a Commonwealth team against Pakistan, playing in his last five first-class fixtures.

During Benaud’s captaincy, Australia did not lose a series, and became the dominant team in world cricket. His success was based on his ability to attack, his tactical boldness and his ability to extract more performance from his players, in particular Davidson. He was known for his unbuttoned shirt, and raised eyebrows with his on-field exuberance. Benaud embraced his players when opposition wickets fell, something that was uncommon at the time. Benaud’s bold leadership coupled with his charismatic nature and public relations ability enlivened interest in Test cricket among a public who had increasingly regarded it as boring.

Playing style

Benaud was not a large spinner of the ball, but he was known for his ability to extract substantial bounce from the surface. In addition to his accurate probing consistency, he possessed a well-disguised googly and topspinner which tricked many batsmen and yielded him many wickets. In his later career, he added the flipper, a combination of the googly and top spinner which was passed to him by Bruce Dooland. Coupled with his subtle variations in flight and angle of the delivery, he kept the batsman under constant pressure. Benaud was regarded as one of the finest close-fielders of his era, either at gully or in a silly position. As a batsman, he was tall and lithe, known for his hitting power, in particular his lofted driving ability from the front foot.

Johnnie Moyes said "Certainly Benaud received a little help from the roughened patches, but he could do what the off-spinners could not do: he could turn the ball, mostly slowly, sometimes with more life. His control was admirable, and when Benaud gets a batsman in trouble he rarely if ever gives him a loose one. He keeps him pinned down, probing and probing until the victim is well and truly enmeshed."p32, A.G. Moyes, With the M.C.C. in Australia 1962-63, A Critical Story of the Tour, The Sportsmans Book Club, 1965

Media career

After the 1956 England tour, Benaud stayed behind in London to take a BBC presenter training course. He took up a journalism position with the News of the World, beginning as a police roundsman before becoming a sports columnist. In 1960 he made his first radio commentary in the United Kingdom at the BBC, after which he moved into television.

After retiring from playing in 1964, Benaud turned to full-time cricket journalism and commentary, dividing his time between Britain (where he worked for the BBC for many years before joining Channel 4 in 1999), and Australia (for the Nine Network). Overall he played in or commentated on approximately 500 Test matches, as he himself noted in one of his final interviews in Britain when asked if he would miss Test cricket.