The first time I recall watching cricket was the First Ashes Test in 1968: long hours indoors glued to a black-and-white 405-line television set. The game captured me at once, and I’ve been under its spell ever since.
Only a few years earlier, Richie Benaud had been captain of Australia, a bold, attacking leg spinner in an era when leggies were dying out. When his playing career ended, Benaud headed straight for the commentary box where, for the next five decades, he created and upheld a reputation as an insightful, thoughtful analyst who never once overwhelmed the viewer by telling him what he was seeing for himself.
It’s only two days since I woke up to learn that Stan Freberg had passed on, and only a month since we lost Terry Pratchett. This is becoming a seriously shitty year.
I have no actual memory of Benaud commentating upon the 1968 series. But the memory of Benaud that I do have is that he was always there. Every summer, as long as the BBC held the rights to Test cricket, no matter who the visitors, Benaud’s warm, smooth voice would be part of the summer months, when I would be watching all humanly possible hours. I simply can’t remember a time before him.
It’s not that I remember any particular phrases from him. He wasn’t that sort of commentator, drawing attention from the game to himself, though that didn’t mean he couldn’t summon up a very effective line when the moment deserved it. He was simply a presence. It was like sitting with an Uncle who knew everything you could want to know about what you were watching, and who would share the experience with you.
Benaud didn’t follow English Test cricket to Sky, holding to his belief that the game should not be kept from public gaze. Later, old age and issues with his throat prevented him from adding to the hundreds of games upon which he spoke. Now the voice is gone, and we are again deprived. I wish I’d been old enough to see him play. I’m glad I had so many decades to listen to him.