Richie Benaud : biography
On arrival in the British Isles, Benaud quickly made an impression with both bat and ball. After scoring 44 and taking 2/66 in the opening first-class match against Worcestershire, the all-rounder starred in his next match, against Yorkshire. He scored 97 in Australia’s only innings and then took 7/46 in the hosts’ first innings as the tourists took an innings win. Although his form with the willow dropped off in his remaining six matches before the Tests—a 35 was his only score beyond 20 in seven attempts—Benaud continued to strike regularly with the ball. He took 18 wickets in these matches, including 3/20 and 3/37 against Oxford University, 5/13 against Minor Counties and 4/38 against Hampshire. This was enough for him to gain selection for the start of the Tests.
He managed only eight runs in four innings in the first two Tests, and having taken only two wickets for 136 runs, was dropped for the Third Test. This was part of a month-long run in which he made only 123 runs in eight innings and took only seven wickets in four matches. He was recalled immediately for the Fourth Test, but was dropped for the Fifth Test after managing seven runs in his only innings and going wicketless. He ended the Test series with 15 runs at 3.00 and two wickets at 87.00. It was thought that the surface at The Oval would favour pacemen, but Australia’s selection proved to be a blunder as England’s spinners took them to the only win of the series, allowing them to regain the Ashes.
He also showed his hitting ability in a tour match against T.N. Pearce’s XI at Scarborough. Opening the batting, he struck 135 in 110 minutes in the second innings, including an Australian record of eleven sixes, four of them in one over. In eight first-class matches after his Test campaign was over, Benaud added a further half-century in addition to the century against Pearce’s XI, and took 22 more wickets, including 4/20 against the Gentlemen of England.
Benaud was born in Penrith, New South Wales, in 1930. He came from a cricket family. His father Louis, a third generation Australian of French Huguenot descent, was a leg spinner who played for Penrith in Sydney Grade Cricket, gaining attention for taking all twenty wickets in a match against St. Marys for 65 runs. Lou later moved to Parramatta region in western Sydney, and played for Cumberland. It was here that Richie Benaud grew up, learning how to bowl leg breaks, googlies and topspinners under his father’s watch. Educated at Parramatta High School, Benaud made his first grade debut for Cumberland at age 16, primarily as a batsman.
In November 1948, at the age of 18, Benaud was selected for the New South Wales Colts, the state youth team. He scored 47 not out and took 3/37 in an innings win over Queensland. As a specialist batsman, he made his first class debut for New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground against Queensland in the New Year’s match of the 1948-49 season. On a green pitch which was struck by a downpour on the opening day, Benaud’s spin was not used by Arthur Morris and he failed to make an impression with the bat in his only innings, scoring only two. New South Wales were the dominant state at the time, and vacancies in the team were scarce, particularly as there were no Tests that season and all of the national team players were available for the whole summer. Relegated to the Second XI after this match, he was struck in the head above the right eye by a ball from Jack Daniel while batting against Victoria in Melbourne, having missed an attempted hook. After 28 X-rays showed nothing, it was finally diagnosed that the crater in his forehead had resulted in a skull fracture and he was sidelined for the remainder of the season, since a second impact could have been fatal. He spent two weeks in hospital for the surgery.Benaud, pp. 33-38. This was the only match he played for the second-string state team that summer.
In his early career, Benaud was a batting all-rounder, marked by a looping backlift which made him suspect against fast bowling but allowed him to have a wide attacking stroke range. At the start of the 1949-50 season, he was still in the Second XI, but when the Test players departed for a tour of South Africa soon afterwards, vacancies opened up. Benaud was recalled to the New South Wales First XI in late December for the Christmas and New Year’s fixtures. With Ray Lindwall, Keith Miller and Ernie Toshack, three of Australia’s leading four bowlers from the 1948 Invincibles tour of England unavailable, Benaud bowled heavily in some matches. However, he did not have much success in his five games, taking only five wickets at 54.00.