Thursday, April 16, 2015

Benaud - The Voice of Cricket

10th April 2015 was possibly the saddest day for the world of Cricket in my memory with the passing away of Richie Benaud- a cricketer par excellence, a commentator in a class of his own , a true gentleman and a superb human being. He was the Bob Hope of cricket - loved and adored by all, no one had a bad word to say about him. He loved cricket and having been involved with the game for over six decades, was able to adjust himself almost nonchalantly to the changes and ups and downs of the game.

Although his main recognition came as a broadcaster, he also stands out as an exceptional cricketer in the record books being the first cricketer to score 2000 runs and take 200 wickets. He was an extremely useful all-rounder, bringing wrist style leg spin bowling into fashion. He excelled as a captain never having lost a series and winning the Ashes three times bringing a distinctive style of aggression into the game not hitherto heard of. However, he came into his own behind the microphone and created a style of commentary which could not be imitated. His tremendous knowledge, deep insight into the game and choice of words made his commentary a unique experience and an enjoyment for the listeners which was so abstract it could not be put into words.Even his silence spoke volumes. He certainly knew when to speak and when not to. He never had to use words like 'you know', 'I mean' , 'tragedy'  and 'disaster' and so on. We never heard him describe a shot by a batsman as a 'great cricket shot' so frequently mentioned by other commentators. After all it is cricket and not football !! When one of his fellow commentators described a dropped catch as a tragedy,he said quite calmly-Titanic is a tragedy, Drought in Ethiopia is a disaster. A dropped catch bears no relation to either of them. He had quite a wicked ,almost devilish sense of humour. Anyone who thinks otherwise was just watching him not listening to him!!
His famous words when asked what is the secret of his success - put your brain into gear and if you can add to what is on the screen do it or shut up. If only the so called commentators realised it and stop doing Radio commentary on television insulting the intelligence of the viewers so blatantly.

He loved the game and the people who played it. He did not have a bad word to say about any of them and will always notice something positive about even a mediocre player. He had this uncanny ability to notice things on the field no one else could even dream about and to describe it in unparalled style and wit that made him so different from others. The following examples will illustrate my point quite succinctly:-
In 1990 at Lords India was facing a follow-on. Kapil Dev was facing Eddie Hemmings. 24 runs were needed. 9 wickets were down. Kapil had already hit 3 sixes. Hemmings was to bowl the last ball. Gooch standing by Hemmings said something to him. Richie on the microphone - 'Gooch is saying keep him there Eddie, that may be his problem!' Sure enough Kapil hit it for a six and saved the follow on. Richie had tremendous respect and affection for Kapil. He himself brought a unique kind of aggression to the game in his era as captain and was delighted to see that flair in Kapil Dev. I had the privilege to interview Richie during a documentary on Kapil Dev for an Indian TV channel . In response to my question he said 'I shall happily pay to go through the turnstiles to watch him and I have a press pass!!'

In the 2005 Ashes series Kevin Pietersen hit Shane Warne for a straight six. Richie said that was a great shot and so is this one when the camera was focused on Shane Warne watching the ball go way over his head over the boundary.
In one match a ball was misfielded twice and the batsmen got confused and did not run. Richie said - 'They say don't run on a misfield but what do you do when there are two!!'
 Richie was revered unconditionally  both by the spectators and fellow commentators, even the brash and blunt Geoff Boycott who unashamedly admitted he wanted to be like Richie but unfortunately there can only be one of him.

His description of the game was so fair, balanced and objective that it made you forget he was an Australian. The Aussie players did not get any preferential treatment from him. Only the best were praised. His gentle mannerism, unflinching support for fairplay and unbiased approach towards the game made hard for one to believe he came from Australia -a fact so concretely visible in today's players.  It is a matter of great surprise that people all around him like Vivian Richards , Gary Sobers, Frank Worrell even Paul Collingwood have been bestowed with honours that Richie so richly deserved but was overlooked The British authorities have a lot to answer for. He was the greatest Ambassador for the game for all those years. But for him making a stand and joining hands with Kerry Packer we may still not have heard of millionaire cricketers .It was his great foresight which made it possible despite the vehement opposition that he had to face at the time and was even temporarily labelled as a traitor -a blunder ratified quickly. He spoke vociferously, without fear and in his uniquely controlled expression against any kind of injustice towards the game or a player. It is due to his firm belief that cricket commentary should be free to air that we have been deprived of enjoying listening to him since cricket coverage had been taken over by the Sky and to have to put up with clowns like Lloyd, Vaughan, and Knight et al.

In more ways than one it is a bigger loss than losing Sir Don Bradman . That was just for Australia. Richie belonged to the whole cricketing World. He is revered just as much perhaps more in the Indian Sub continent than in Australia. People of his calibre should never have to leave this world. It becomes such a poor place and the void left by him can never be fulfilled.
Richie -May God bless you and give you pride of place in his kingdom. You deserve it. We shall love you and miss you for ever.

Dr. K. K. Srivastava for DieHard Cricket Fans

PS- I must quote Richie what he said about his meeting with our G. Vishwanath when we were sharing the pressbox on a rainy day. Richie used to call  Vishwanath as Vishnawath . When they met at a reception Vishwanath said to him it is Vishwanath. Richie promptly apologised to him for the mistake. Vishwanath said -Thank you Mr Benod !

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