Cricket loses el­der states­man

Kapi-Mana News - - SPORT - JOSEPH ROMANOS

Not sur­pris­ingly, the cricket world has been griev­ing since Richie Be­naud died last week, aged 84.

Af­ter Don Brad­man’s death in 2001, Be­naud was cricket’s el­der states­man. He was, again af­ter Brad­man, the most in­flu­en­tial fig­ure in Aus­tralian cricket his­tory.

Con­sid­er­ing his stature – a great all-rounder, a test cap­tain who never lost a se­ries, and an in­ter­na­tional broad­caster since 1960 – I was dis­ap­pointed he did not speak out more strongly against un­savoury as­pects of the game, such as sledg­ing and throw­ing.

So I re­solved to get his opin­ions on those is­sues dur­ing an in­ter­view in 2003, when he was in Welling­ton in sup­port of the Lifef­light trust.

But Be­naud, a canny and ex­pe­ri­enced jour­nal­ist, wouldn’t be led into say­ing some­thing he didn’t want, and our dis­cus­sion was at times slightly testy.

By then Be­naud was re­mind­ing me of one of one of those pup­pets from the tele­vi­sion show Thun­der­birds. Once a vi­tal, vir­ile crick­eter, he looked dis­tinctly aged on screen, if im­mac­u­lately at­tired and coif­fured.

How­ever, in per­son he was still quick-wit­ted and lively.

I asked him about one of the scourges of mod­ern cricket – chuck­ing.

When he was cap­tain­ing Australia, Be­naud’s fast bowler, Ian Meck­iff, was no-balled out of test cricket for throw­ing. Was the sit­u­a­tion any bet­ter now?

He shrugged, and let the ques­tion pass out­side the off stump.

‘‘ Since the ICC took over de­cid­ing what is a legal de­liv­ery, I haven’t given the mat­ter any thought,’’ he dead­panned.

‘‘ What’s the point? Um­pires to­day can’t even no ball a bowler for throw­ing. They have to men­tion it qui­etly af­ter the day’s play.’’

Yes, but were the ac­tions of bowlers like Mut­tiah Mu­ralitha­ran fair? ‘‘I don’t think about it.’’ A per­son steeped in cricket – he had to have an opin­ion, per­sisted. A glim­mer of a grin.

‘‘I will ad­mit there are oc­ca­sions when I wake up in the early hours of the morn­ing and have a quiet think to my­self … ’’

That was it. As with his commentaries, he made his point with a min­i­mum of words. What about on-field be­hav­iour? Be­naud was one of the most gre­gar­i­ous play­ers of his age, shirt un­done al­most to his navel it seemed, rush­ing over to back­slap a field­s­man for tak­ing a catch.

‘‘I was more showy than play­ers be­fore me, but there wasn’t any hug­ging, high fives or lick­ing peo­ple’s ears.

‘‘Even so, for­mer play­ers like Fin­gle­ton and O’Reilly were a bit scorn­ful of my an­tics.’’

IWhat about mod­ern be­hav­iour? ‘‘ Some of it is ob­vi­ously un­savoury. Phys­i­cal con­tact be­tween op­pos­ing play­ers should be stamped on hard.

‘‘But gen­er­ally play­ers’ ac­tions re­flect the so­ci­ety they live in.

‘‘ I do think play­ers are less mod­est th­ese days, but a lot of things are done for the ben­e­fit of tele­vi­sion.

‘‘For in­stance, when a bats­man nears 50 or 100, his team-mates will con­verge on the bal­cony so when he reaches the mile­stone and the tele­vi­sion cam­eras pan on them, they’ll be there and not be la­belled bad team mem­bers.’’

Be­naud did tremen­dous things dur­ing his ca­reer.

In 1960, his ad­ven­tur­ous cap­taincy, and that of his West Indies op­po­nent, Frank Wor­rell, led to the great­est test se­ries ever, in­clud­ing the tied test, and the re­ju­ve­na­tion of cricket.

In 1977 he sided strongly with Kerry Packer’s World Se­ries Cricket against the estab­lish­ment, led by Brad­man.

He felt in­ter­na­tional crick­eters had been treated like ser­vants for too long.

His stance briefly cost him his friend­ship with Brad­man and se­nior cricket fig­ures, but he was proved right.

And in 1981 he was out­stand­ing when sum­ming up af­ter the in­fa­mous un­der­arm in­ci­dent. ‘‘One of the worst things I’ve ever seen done on a cricket field,’’ he said, slam­ming Aus­tralian cap­tain Greg Chap­pell.

Gen­er­ally he was very re­strained. He did gen­tly chide com­men­tary new boy Mark Tay­lor for de­scrib­ing a bats­man’s dis­missal as a tragedy.

‘‘Mark,’’ he told Tay­lor later, ‘‘a tragedy is the Ti­tanic, not a bats­man get­ting out.’’ He had a dry sense of hu­mour. ‘‘And Glenn McGrath dis­missed for two, just 98 runs short of his cen­tury,’’ he said when the peren­nial Aus­tralian No 11 headed back to the pav­il­ion.

As the first test crick­eter to take 200 wickets and score 200 runs, and as the world’s most re­spected cricket broad­caster for more than 60 years, Be­naud left an in­deli­ble im­pres­sion – and he did it say­ing what he wanted and not a word more.

Photo: GETTY

Richie Be­naud signs off at The Oval in Lon­don.

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