Richie Benaud : biography
Early Test career
The 1951-52 season saw a tour to Australia by the West Indies. Benaud was given a chance against the tourists when New South Wales played them in Sydney after the First Test. On a green pitch, Benaud came in at 7/96 and featured in a century partnership in only an hour, making 43 himself. The Caribbeans were skittled for 134 in reply and went on to lose the match, although they attacked the young leg-spinner, who took 1/130 in total from 36 overs. Benaud scored his maiden first-class century, 117 against South Australia, in the next match, two years after falling short of the milestone by seven runs. In the next four matches, Benaud passed 15 only once, scoring a 34, and took only seven wickets. Up to this point, in seven matches for the season, the young all-rounder had only scored 307 runs at 27.90 and taken ten wickets at 64.80.
Despite this, Benaud was chosen for his Test debut in the Fifth Test against the West Indies in 1951-52 in Sydney. At this point, Australia had already taken an unassailable 3–1 series lead and decided to try out some young players. Selected as a batsman, he scored 3 and 19. Hassett allowed him to bowl only in the second innings, when nine West Indian wickets had fallen and Australia were on the verge of an inevitable victory. Leading opposition batsman Everton Weekes, edged Benaud in his first over, but Gil Langley dropped the catch. Benaud went on to dismiss tail-ender Alf Valentine for his first Test wicket, conceding 14 runs from 4.3 overs.Benaud, pp. 46-47. Benaud ended his season with 97 and a total of 3/39 in an innings win over South Australia.
The following Australian season in 1952-53, Benaud started modestly and in the five first-class matches before the Tests, scored 208 runs at 26.00 including a 63 and 69, and 14 wickets at 38.64. This included figures of 2/70 and 4/90 against the touring South Africa. However, this was not enough to ensure his selection in the First Test, where he was made 12th man. After scoring 60 and 37 and taking 1/60 in an Australian XI against the South Africans following the Test, he forced his way into the team for the Second Test.Benaud, pp. 59-61. He suffered a smashed gum and a severely cut top lip when a square cut by John Waite in the Second Test against South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground hit him in the face while he was fielding at short gully. Doctors told him he was lucky: it could have broken his cheekbones, jaw or removed his eyesight if it had hit any of the surrounding areas. It could have killed him if it struck him where his skull was previously fractured. He married after the match and had to mumble his wedding vows through a swathe of bandages.Benaud, pp. 64-66. Benaud went on to play in the final four Tests. He made 124 runs at 20.66, making double figures in four of seven innings, but was unable to capitalise on his starts, with a top score of 45. His leg spin yielded ten wickets at 30.60, with a best of 4/118 in the Fourth Test in Adelaide when he was given a heavy workload, totalling 58 overs, when Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller broke down during the match.Benaud, p. 67. In another match for New South Wales against the tourists, he took a total of 5/95. Up to this point, his first-class batting average was below 30 and his bowling average close to 40, and he had never taken more than four wickets in an innings or six in a match.
The selectors persisted in Benaud despite his unproductive Test performances, selecting him for the squad for the 1953 Ashes tour of England. He had been seventh and eighth in the domestic runscoring and wicket-taking aggregates for the season, but was yet to convert this into international performance. He justified their decision prior to the team’s departure, scoring 167 not out and taking match figures of 7/137 for the touring team against a Tasmania Combined XI, his victims including Test batsmen Miller, Ian Craig and Neil Harvey. He also put on 167 in a partnership with Alan Davidson, the first collaboration between the pair, who would later go on to lead Australia’s bowling in the last five years of their career.Benaud, pp. 68-72. Benaud then struck an unbeaten 100 and totalled 1/64 in the next match against Western Australia before the Australians departed for England.