There simply aren’t enough superlatives to describe Richie Benaud, both as a man and a broadcaster. His untimely death at the age of 84 just under three weeks ago was met with sadness and praise in equal measure, such was the high regard in which he was held. This was a man who was deemed to be the very best in his field, not just in cricket broadcasting but sport broadcasting. There wasn’t anyone who could quite match Benaud which tells us a lot about just how much he was revered by outsiders and close acquaintances alike, and his passing leaves a void that can never be filled.
He was cherished by Australia who claimed him as one of their own, by the wider cricket community including right here in Britain, and across the world. A successful cricketer, Benaud would captain his country from 1958, pioneering the role of all-rounder and championing aggressive, attractive forms of captaincy. But it’s arguably in the commentary box where Benaud left an indelible mark on so many generations of fans across the world.
In Britain, he is best remembered for his longevity, amassing 42 years of service covering cricket on these shores.
Rather fittingly given his status as the best of the best, that he signed off here during that unforgettable 2005 Ashes series that witnessed some of the most exciting, enthralling cricket we’ve ever had the privilege of watching. It was a series that lives long in the memory for every English cricket fan, and Benaud’s rather humble words to bring the curtain down on his broadcasting career in England of “it’s time to say goodbye…thank you for having me” speak volumes of the gentleman Benaud was.
For fifty years, Benaud was at the pinnacle of sports broadcasting. His passion, knowledge, and warmth endeared him to so many, and his voice that filled living rooms worldwide was so often the sound of summer to those who had the pleasure to listen to his insight.
Unlike many commentators in the sporting world today, Benaud was a master at knowing when to talk and when to let the images on the screen do the talking. He was someone that every cricket commentator wanted to be, but one that broadcasters reluctantly had to accept was in a league of his own.
Cricket has been blessed to have had so many fine broadcasters. Channel Nine, where Benaud spent much of his career, also had the services of the late Tony Greig and the fine Bill Lawry; they also have the superb Mark Nicholas, the former host of Channel 4’s coverage.
Closer to home, the late Brian Johnston was a class act on BBC Radio 5 Live’s Test Match Special, while Geoffrey Boycott, as divisive and pessimistic as he can be, is still held in high regard by English cricket fans, as is David Lloyd on Sky Sports.
However, it is rare that someone can achieve fame and respect the world over. Benaud did that. He inspired the players he was commentating on and made heroes of them, he was idolised by his commentating peers, and he inspired those at home to pick up a bat and play the game sparking lifelong love affair’s with the sport for many generations of people.
Perhaps what separates Benaud from the rest was not just his natural broadcasting ability, or his contribution to Australian cricket from a leg-spin or captaincy perspective. It was the fact he was often lauded because he had time for everyone he came into contact with. He was always on hand to give advice to players and his fellow broadcasters, individuals who were willing to learn from the best there was.
The tributes Benaud received speak volumes, as well as the fact Australia offered him a state funeral. He was more than an Australian national treasure though, he was a sporting icon idolised everywhere. There never will be another Benaud.