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Anything But…Benaud

By Himanshu Shekhar | Last Updated: Thursday, March 19, 2009 - 22:04
Himanshu Shekhar
The Compulsive Pilgrim

“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." --- Harold de Andrado

The spectacle of cricket is phenomenal…and so it will remain. But the very idea of cricket seems less exciting without Richie Benaud.

My early school days were responsible for shaping my current career, for I was the one who had no great plans for the future! Questions like, what after tenth standard? Science or commerce? A doctor or an engineer?...they never mattered – the only thing which I did was mimicking a voice, a voice that insatiably made me set early morning alarms, wake up in the early hours, some times around 3.30 in the morning and switch on my television.

It would be unfair for me to say that the excitement of watching Tendulkar bat on a fiery green top pitch with lush green outfield and 7-2 field arrangement was the only reason that resulted in my early morning alarms.

The idea of cricket without Tendulkar, Sehwag, or Benaud seems unthinkable. But so did the idea of cricket without greats like Gavaskar, Richards, Miandad, Imran, Kapil…the list is long.

The unique style of Benaud made cricket commentary an unforgettable experience, not just because of his knowledge or for his oratorical skills, but for a judgement which rarely the modern commentators show. Just as a great batsman knows where exactly his off stump is, or McGrath knew just where to pitch the ball -Benaud knew when not to utter a word. There were occasions when a complete over passed without him uttering a word in the commentary box.

When Benaud walked out of the observation box for the last time at the Oval (England) in 2005, a numb crowd left no stone unturned in applauding. Being a pivotal man in Channel 9’s elite box over the years, he drew questions and answered the issue unflatteringly to the masses, who were unable to buy the costly tickets and were glued to television sets instead.

Many in our times might not be aware that Richie Benaud has the distinction of hitting the third fastest Test century in terms of number of minutes spent on the crease, or that the legend’s association with the game has been over 500 Test matches in total. Richie Benaud mastered what many consider the toughest art in cricket – leg spin, and went onto play 63 Tests for Australia and also claim 248 Test wickets.

Benaud, after retiring from Test cricket, went on to join a training course in BBC were he learned the integrities of the art from legendary Peter O'Sullevan. The cricketer within him ensured a sense of keen judgement and an unmatched understanding of the game which helped him in becoming the greatest cricket commentator in history.

His unpardoning and sometimes harsh words for teams and managers left them red in the face and sponsors cried foul, but his characteristic impartial assessment can’t be described to those who never had the privilege of hearing him. As a commentator his neutrality, humor and subtleness were not confined to his nationality and market forces.

It was in his era that cricket went to households through the television revolution and for many, it was Benaud’s exploits in the commentary room that kept them hooked to the idiot box. His very presence brought a soothing effect to the game full of controversies.

Watching Benaud leave the commentary box with an idiosyncratic smile on his face, I am somehow convinced that celestial forces were at work to stop history in its making . Call me a crazy Benaud-phile or maybe I am being ridiculously silly, but there is that something special in him which often forced me to think ‘What would Benaud say when Tendulkar hits that winning run in a World Cup final?’

Tendulkar definitely is around but alas! Benaud won’t be there in that box if ever that situation arises.

First Published: Thursday, March 19, 2009 - 22:04

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