Yesterday was a very sad day for anyone with a joy for the game of cricket as Richie Benaud, Australian Test player and captain and legendary commentator passed away at the age of 84.
For so many of us he was the voice of cricket. I have been watching Test matches since the early 80s and Richie’s words of ‘Good Morning Everyone’ on the TV as play was due to begin meant another enjoyable day of Test cricket was upon us. As an Englishman his Australian brogue was the sound of summer, and despite all of the rivalry between our two nations on a cricket field, he was revered as much in the UK as in his home country.
Indeed, my memory of Richie was from the 2005 Ashes series at Lord’s. It was Richie’s final series commentating in the UK, if not his last match. I remember the PA telling us as the last few overs approached that this would be Richie’s last appearance at the home of cricket and the crowd as one turned to applaud the commentary box. This was just after the new media centre at Lord’s had been unveiled and we could see him doff his cap and wave through the vast expanse of glass at the crowd. I seem to recall after that he said, whilst he was touched by the applause, he felt a little embarrassed by it, as if unworthy of such appreciation. Such was the man. I saw on youtube a video of his last few minutes of commentary in the UK, from the Oval when the Ashes were famously regained by England in 2005. It brought back those memories from Lord’s, with the crowd cheering, English or Australian, as one to celebrate a great man, even with the Ashes still not decided. A moment that choked me up when I watched.
Richie’s great strength as a commentator was to know when to shut up, to put it simply. In that footage above, he is saying his farewells when McGrath took the vital wicket of Pietersen, and with no change of pace or diction, described the moment perfectly, with no fanfare. Even in his very final words on English TV he knew that the game was most important, to add flavour and context to what we were watching without talking too much or too hysterically. With the appalling state of TV commentary these days, the hyperbole and blokey banter and off-topic, self-indulgent nonsense that too many so-called experts pander to, Richie was a beacon in the gloom and his manner and style of commentary should be observed and learnt from. Less is more most of the time, and today’s commentators should draw from Richie’s greatest strength.
Many words have been written on his passing, all more eloquent than I. There’s been some lovely things on his time for old friends, his playing career, and his great life. It is clear that he was much love, always revered, and will be missed.
I won’t say any more, at the risk of self-indulgence myself. Just to say thank you Richie, and I’ll be straight into a confectionery stall to pay homage.
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