DateLine: 4th June 2015
Richie Benaud was cricketís true ambassador.
His influence on Australian cricket is considered to be greater than anyone else except Sir Donald Bradman.
Undoubtedly, he was one of the most dominant personalities in Australian cricket history. Born at Penrith, 30 miles from Sydney, on 6th October 1930 Richie died at the age of 84 on on 10th April 2015, after fighting skin cancer. His death has been widely mourned by cricket followers the world over.
For the last several decades Richie Benaud was a very well known commentator and cricketís most famous broadcaster. His peerless commentary had won him fans world wide and that virtually had made him the 'voice of cricket'. He enjoyed the unique distinction of being involved in 500 Test matches including 63 as a player and the remaining as a commentator.
Richie Benaudís splendid Test career (1951-1964) spanned over 13 years. He was the first player in Test cricket to score 2000 runs and to claim 200 wickets (in 32 tests). In his entire career he scored 2201 runs (average 24.45), with 3 centuries and 9 fifties and with his quality leg break googly bowling took 248 wickets (average 27.03 apiece), which included one 10 wicket haul in a match and sixteen 5-wicket hauls in an innings.
Opponent wise, the breakup of his tally of wickets was: England (83), South Africa (52), India (52), West Indies (42) and Pakistan (19). Thrice he claimed 25 or more wickets in a Test rubber: 30 against South Africa (1957-58), 31 against England (1958-59); and 29 against India (1959-60).
Amongst his most notable and outstanding bowling feats were three wickets in 4 consecutive balls (4-15) versus the West Indies at Georgetown in (1954-55) and three wickets without conceding a run in 3.4 overs against India in New Delhi (1959-60). Amazingly, on the tour of Pakistan and India in 1959-60 he took 41 wickets at an average cost of 18.00 runs.
As a batsman, he was a powerful hitter and an elegant stroke-maker. He hit 100 in 78 minutes against the West Indies at Georgetown in 1954-55. On the tour of South Africa (1957-58) he scored 122 and 100 at Johannesburg. The 6-foot tall all-rounder was a brilliant gully fielder and held 65 catches during his career.
Apart from all his brilliance as an all-rounder, it was as a captain that his reputation shone brightest of all. His bold, imaginative and attacking approach set a new direction for Australian cricket. After Ian Craig stepped down due to sickness, Richie Benaud was appointed captain against England for the 1958-59 series and succeeded in regaining the Ashes.
The next year (1959-60), he successfully led the tour of Pakistan and India. But more remarkably it was the the next Test series against the West Indies (1960-61), beginning with the famous tie at Brisbane which set the the seal on Benaudís captaincy. This was one of the greatest Test series ever on record. In fact it was from this series that his policy of attacking cricket recaptured much of the waning enthusiasm for cricket in Australia in those days. Later in 1961 he inspired Australia to retain the Ashes in England where his exceptional bowling performance in the decisive Old Trafford Test was simply superb. He single-handedly ran through the Englandís batting and took 6 for 70 by bowling into bowlers' rough. After the first Test against South Africa in 1963-64 Richie handed over the team leadership to Bobby Simpson.
Richie Benaud was also very popular in Pakistan. He visited Pakistan thrice, (1956, 1959, and 1968). In 1956 the brilliant all-rounder was a member of I.W Johnsonís team and in 1959-60 he was captain of the visiting Australian side and in 1968 he led an International XI under the banner of Commonwealth.
The credit of laying turf wickets in Pakistan is also attributed to Richie Benaud for his advice to the then President of Pakistan Field Marshall Muhammad Ayub Khan who had come to watch the Karachi Test in December 1959.
The late Fazal Mahmood in his autobiography, has paid a most befitting tribute to the legend when he wrote ďIt is very difficult to differentiate between Benaud as a bowler, a batsman and a captain. To me he was best as a captain, better as a bowler and good as a batsman. Richie was a tremendous cricketer. He would not allow things to get boring and was astonishingly versatile. He was cricketís gift to the press. He is a household name as cricket journalist and broadcasterĒ.
Alas! Such a great legend of cricket has passed away.
(Article: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author only.
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