Home > Features > Moments in history >

Richie Benaud: A great all-rounder and the voice of cricket

Richie Benaud: A great all-rounder and the voice of cricket

Richie Benaud… one of the most cerebral and respected names in cricket © Getty Images

Richie Benaud was a great leg-spinner, a trend setting all-rounder and one of the most successful captains, who later became the voice of cricket. Arunabha Sengupta pays tribute to the most influential cricket personality since the Second World War on the great man’s 82nd birthday.

A sophisticated, refined man of French descent taking up cricket is a rarity verging on the unique. It is indeed doubly strange that this gentleman went on to become a trend-setting all-rounder, a legendary leg-spinner, one of the most successful captains and, subsequently, the undisputed voice of cricket.

As a batsman he was hard-hitting and a well known exponent of lofted drives; as a fielder one of the best close-in catchers of his era; and as a bowler, the Australian leg-spinning bridge between the glory days of Clarrie Grimmett and Bill O’Reilly and the modern era of Shane Warne.

Neither as talented nor as large a spinner of the ball as the other great Australian exponents of the art, Benaud was a master at exploiting rough patches on the surface and was known to generate disconcerting bounce. He was accurate to the extent of nagging and in his arsenal there lay concealed a well-disguised googly and a fantastic top-spinner. Late in his career he also developed a flipper.

Under his captaincy Australia won 12 Tests and were defeated in just four. Not one series was lost while Benaud was at the helm. The young team he had inherited had turned into dominant world beaters by the time he left the scene. His handling of key players – Alan Davidson in particular – was exemplary. In an era not known to demonstrate emotion on the field, Benaud stood with an unbuttoned shirt, raised eyebrows and embraced his players when wickets fell.

His fearless moves and natural charisma enlivened interest in Test cricket during an era when post-War circumspection and parsimonious approach to batting and bowling had made the game increasingly tedious for spectators.

Richie Benaud achieved a lot as a cricketer, but the wisdom he gathered and dispensed would become identifiable with his greying hair. His analytical mind was sought by great cricketers and administrators alike. Shane Warne considered him a mentor, Ian Chappell looked up to him for advice and Kerry Packer approached him for guidance during the World Series Championships.

As Gideon Haigh put it, “He is perhaps the most influential cricketer and cricket personality since the Second World War.”

While reviewing Benaud’s autobiography, Anything But, Sri Lankan cricket writer Harold de Andrado wrote: “Richie Benaud, possibly next to Sir Don Bradman, has been one of the greatest cricketing personalities as player, researcher, writer, critic, author, organiser, adviser and student of the game.

Early years of struggle

Born on October 6, 1930, Benaud’s career did not soar to greatness from the beginning. In fact, for a long, long gestating period it did not even take off. He fumbled through the first few years while both he and the team management seemed unable to decide whether he was a batsman or a bowler.

Indeed he made his First-class debut as a specialist batsman. And in his Test debut at Sydney against West Indies in 1951-52, he was chosen primarily for his batting and came in at No 7, scoring three and 19. He bowled just four and a half overs.

In his second Test match, against South Africa at Melbourne, he was struck by a fierce square cut by John Waite while fielding at short gully and suffered a smashed gum and split upper lip. According to the doctors, the impact could have as easily broken his cheekbone or damaged his eye forever.

The Australian team in the early to mid-50s was overloaded with all-rounders. Keith Miller and Ray Lindwall were in the middle of their careers, while Benaud and Davidson were starting theirs. The balance was thus awkward and often tottering. There was a slump in the Australian performance and Benaud himself seldom set the ground on fire.

Still considered a batsman who could bowl, he did achieve some success with both bat and ball in the Caribbean in 1955, hitting his first century in Tests – in 78 minutes, the third fastest in history at that time.

Yet, after six years of international cricket, towards the end of 1956, the bottom line was alarming. He had managed just 815 runs at 21.44 and captured 50 wickets at 34.44 in 24 Tests, without a single five-for. Luckily, the selectors persisted with him.

The making of the all-rounder

It was during the tour to India in 1956-57 that Benaud showed signs of maturing into a top class leg-spinner. He took seven for 72 in Madras, and had figures of six for 52 and five for 53 in Calcutta. The Indians, including Polly Umrigar and Vijay Manjrekar, born and brought up on a steady diet of spinners, succumbed against the increasing thought Benaud seemed to be putting into his bowling.

The following tour to South Africa in 1957-58 tour saw the making of Richie Benaud, the great all-rounder. He struck two centuries and captured 30 wickets in the series, including a 100 along with bowling analyses of four for 70 and five 84 in the victorious fourth Test.

This series also established him as the greatest leg-spinner of the day, and pitch-forked him into the spot for captaincy ahead of Neil Harvey.

Richie Benaud: A great all-rounder and the voice of cricket

Riche Benaud was one of the great all-rounders in the game and one of most successful Test captains © Getty Images

Success at the helm

During the Ashes series that followed, Benaud led Australia from the front – capturing 31 wickets in five Tests, securing the series 4-0. The astute innovation in his captaincy was both refreshing and remarkable. Success followed success, with Australia beating Pakistan and India in the subcontinent, and Benaud himself continued to enjoy phenomenal success with the ball.

However, the peak of his career, as well as the turning point for the game of cricket, was reached in 1960-61, when Frank Worrell’s West Indians arrived in Australia to play the most memorable series of all. The five Tests, including the tie in the first, saw exhilarating cricket, aggressive and attractive captaincy, and spirit that characterised all that the game was about.

Finally, there was a fantastic performance with which Benaud snatched the Ashes away from the jaws of England at Old Trafford in 1964. England had taken a huge 177 run lead in the first innings, and were 150 for one in the second, requiring 256 to win. Benaud masterfully bowled into the rough created by the footmarks, and in a devastating burst took five for 13 off 25 balls. During the final stages, he also utilised the occasional leg-spin of Bobby Simpson craftily. England collapsed to a 54 run defeat.

A fascinating account of the tie at Brisbane and the heist at Old Trafford can be found in Benaud’s A Tale of Two Tests.

He led Australia in two more series before retiring from cricket, in the process becoming the first all-rounder to achieve the 2000 run and 200 wicket double. His final figures stood at 2201 runs at 24.45 and 248 wickets at 27.03. For a while he remained the world record holder for the highest number of wickets in Tests.

Voice of cricket

After the 1956 England tour, Benaud stayed back in London to take a training course on radio presentation from BBC. He took up a journalism position with the News of the World, and soon became a sports columnist. Benaud got into the BBC commentary box in 1960. He later moved into television. His commentary retained the characteristics of his cricket – full of commonsense, direct and to the point.

After retirement, Benaud turned to full-time cricket journalism and commentary, and became the most respected and recognised – even the most universally imitated – voice in the game. Simply put, the voice of cricket.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history and the romance of the game, punctuated often by opinions about modern day cricket, while his post-graduate degree in statistics peeps through in occasional analytical pieces. The author of three novels, he can be followed on Twitter at http://twitter.com/senantix)

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Aug 31, 2014 (13:00 IST)   at Harare

India tour of England 2014

Sep 2, 2014 (15:00 IST)   at Birmingham

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Sep 2, 2014 (13:00 IST)   at Harare

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Sep 4, 2014 (13:00 IST)   at Harare

India tour of England 2014

Sep 5, 2014 (15:00 IST)   at Leeds

More

Pakistan tour of Sri Lanka, 2014

Aug 30, 2014  at Dambulla

SL won by 7 wkts (D/L method)

India tour of England 2014

Aug 30, 2014  at Nottingham

India won by 6 wkts

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Aug 29, 2014  at Harare

South Africa won by 61 runs

Zimbabwe Triangular Series, 2014

Aug 27, 2014  at Harare

South Africa won by 7 wkts

Bangladesh Tour of West Indies, 2014

Aug 27, 2014  at Basseterre, St Kitts

No result

Photos

Aaron Finch's record 156 vs England in T20I

Videos

Alastair Cook looks ahead to 3rd ODI at Nottingham

Zimbabwe vs Australia Live Cricket Score, Zimbabwe Tri Series 2014 Match 4 at Harare: Australia reeling at 97 for 5

India tour of England 2014: Team India remains unbeaten under Ravi Shastri

Ambati Rayudu has to make every opportunity count if he is to play in ICC World Cup 2015

Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 2014 3rd ODI at Dambulla: Highlights

MS Dhoni records most stumpings in international cricket during India-England 3rd ODI at Trent Bridge

Australia Australia and South Africa in Zimbabwe 2014 England England vs India England vs India 2014 India India tour of England 2014 India vs England India vs England 2014 Pakistan South Africa Sri Lanka Sri Lanka vs Pakistan 2014 Zimbabwe Zimbabwe Triangular Series 2014

Jason Roy included in England squad for T20 against India

Alec Stewart: India’s approach to one-day a lesson for England

Michael Clarke: ICC World Cup 2015 winner will be world’s best side

Stuart Broad expects to be fully fit in time for ICC World Cup 2015

India vs England 3rd ODI: Alastair Cook defends England’s approach

Suresh Raina, Virat Kohli’s fortunes in 3rd ODI against England reveal cricket’s funny side

Zimbabwe Triangular Series 2014: Australia vs Zimbabwe 4th ODI key battles

Clive Lloyd: 22 less-recounted facts about the West Indian legend

India tour of England 2014: Team India remains unbeaten under Ravi Shastri

Statistical review of batsmen with two or more consecutive ducks from ODI debut

Fan of the Day

Niharika Shah

Niharika Shah

667 Posts | 6 Fans

10 Most Unbeatable Records in Cricket

Traditional healer responsible for bringing Ebola to Sierra Leone — scientists

Jharkhand conversion: Police seize 36 SIM cards and 15 mobile phone from Tara Shadeo’s husband

NGOs pursue education for all

Could your dentist’s office give you HIV or Hepatitis B?

Did you know: Salman Khan’s father and Farah Khan’s mother were lead pair in a 1963 film!

Sony Xperia Z3, Xperia Z3 Compact, Xperia Z3 Tablet Compact and more to be announced at IFA

Xiaomi Redmi 1S to go on sale tomorrow at 2PM for 2,000 Flipkart First subscribers

International programme in Animal Husbandry

Ganesh Visarjan 2014: A glum Ameesha Patel finds it hard to let go of her Ganpati- view pics!

North Korea slams UK TV show on its nukes as ‘hideous farce’

Also on cricketcountry.com

Play Fantasy Cricket & Win

Cash Daily! Click here