This morning better scribes than me will be sitting at their computers preparing to compose their tributes to Richie Benaud – Australian cricket legend as all-rounder, national captain and of course revered radio/television commentator – upon his passing overnight at the age of 84.
Nevertheless, I wished to mark the occasion by penning a brief appreciation of my own after hearing the news on my radio upon waking today.
Amid the wide-ranging tributes coming in from all parts, for he was loved around the globe, was a small but telling one I heard from a Radio Five Live presenter (who sadly I cannot name as I type) – almost as an aside – in a set-piece with a veteran Australian media professional who was on air to pay tribute to Benaud.
In their conversation, after Aussie contributor had testified to Benaud’s long and varied career in cricket and as a player/journalist/commentator, the presenter responded by mentioning, in case the speaker did not know this – and there was no reason why he should – that we in Britain also regarded Richie as one of ‘our’ commentators.
That much was true and, and as an initial personal reaction, I can think of no finer tribute from the British Isles.
As a young prep school boy boarding far away from home in East Sussex in the early 1960s, I worshipped the god-like cricketers of the time, especially when they were touring the UK. The Australians of 1961, captained by Benaud, and the West Indies of 1963, captained by (later Sir) Frank Worrell – and the test matches they played against England – represented the absolute high water mark of my interest in cricket, which these days, I don’t mind admitting, has long since subsided to no more than taking a passing note of latest results and controversies.
I’ve lost count of the number of times over the years that I have discussed with contemporary pals how the sports commentators of my youth – e.g. the likes of Peter O’Sullivan on racing, David Coleman on anything, John Arlott on cricket and radio, Alan Weeks, Peter Jones on football … I could go on to read a list that is nearly endless … compare with their modern counterparts. Were they better? Would they bother to seek out a broadcasting career today if they were say transplanted to 2015 aged say 30? And even if they were, would they be picked ahead of their modern equivalents?
All I know is that there’s a degree to which one’s formative years add rose-tinted glasses to one’s fond and/or nostalgic recall of ‘how things were back then’, because that was then and – sadly but inevitably – we are all inevitably ‘of our time’.
All else aside, Richie Benaud was a great cricketer and a great man. There are certain characterful personalities in life who transcend whatever it is they are supposedly ‘well known for’ and impress everyone, even those they could never possibly have met. He was certainly one of those.