What a great delivery. PAUSE. Wasim Akram from around the wicket. PAUSE. Allan Lamb has been cleaned up. PAUSE. Perhaps. PAUSE. So too England.”
It was arguably the greatest delivery bowled in World Cup history. Wasim Akram had come around the wicket and cleaned up Allan Lamb and English hopes of World Cup glory. That’s exactly what Richie Benaud had to say. That’s all you needed to know.
Richie never forced you to listen to him. But you still did. It was like you understood more when he said nothing at all. For through his silence he painted the whole image, the entire scene. If anything, you were paying for his silence.
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For those of us who grew up in the 90s, Benaud was this elderly uncle wishing us a good morning and welcoming us to the dreamy venues around Australia. He was the alarm-clock for our generation during the Australian summer. And when you heard him say, “Welcome to the Gabba” on the first morning of the first Test, you could feel the chill for you knew winter had set in across the Indian subcontinent.
There was one issue though. It was still just 5.30 am in Bombay, and your parents were asleep in the neighbouring room. And you had to pump the volume up on the TV to hear Richie’s welcome—so mellow was his voice. But you didn’t care. For, once Richie’s soothing tone had broken the pin-drop silence around you, it was like nothing could go wrong in the world.
Then he would start selling Channel 9 memorabilia. Most times, you hardly could fathom the what he was asking us to buy. Even if you did—and happened to stay in Bombay—there was no way there was space at home to order them in. But you still wanted to. Just because Richie was asking you to.
The 90s also saw the birth of computer games. EA Sports Cricket 97 though was the real must-have. It was the first of its kind with live commentary. But most importantly, it had Richie Benaud describing the feats you were achieving with your keyboard. He would give you lessons on how Frank Woolley was the first great left-hander and how even Joel Garner couldn’t have held on to a catch for that’s how high the ball had flown over the fence.
Many of us would ensure that our team under-performed on purpose and was bowled out for a low score. Just so that you could see Richie slamming you. “That’s it. There isn’t anymore now. And they will be verrrry disappointed with what they got.”
The greatest strength of Benaud was his ability to make the most thrilling of moments sound ridiculously quotidan, but without ever sucking the drama out of it. He was the pastmaster of the pause.
“You wouldn’t believe it. He’s done ‘im between his legs,” he said as Shane Warne bowled Basit Ali around the legs off the last ball of a day’s play. And you didn’t believe it.
Others might have used up 10 hyperboles to describe it. Richie needed none.
No commentator captured the imagination of the Indian audience like Tony Grieg. But if Greig catered to adolescent adrelaine, Richie was the sagely voice of reason. Yet, he was for all ages.
The Kapil Dev catch to dismiss Viv Richards in the 1983 final was the most-talked about moment in Indian cricket history before MS Dhoni smashed a six off Nuwan Kulasekara at Wankhede Stadium 28 years later. And hundreds have written thousands of words to describe it. But Richie probably summed up the Kapil Dev moment the best all those years ago. “Good shot. PAUSE. Not so good.”
It would be rather disappointing if he was remembered only as the ‘Voice of Cricket’. For, he was after all the first dashing captain to emerge from Down Under. Not to forget, an all-rounder of world-class standing—good enough to score 2201 runs and take 248 wickets. While his commentary would earn renown for its passiveness, he was the first Australian skipper to show emotion and celebrate taking wickets with gusto, much unlike his rather staid predecessors.
And if it wasn’t for him, the world might not have heard Bill Lawry the commentator. Legend has it that Lawry had declined the request to join the Channel 9 panel for Packer’s World Series when approached initially. But when the former captain was informed that it was Benaud who had recommended him, Lawry changed his stance immediately, and rest is ‘dear o’ dear’ history. And Benaud was the only one with the liberty to call him ‘William’.
He also went on to inspire generations of men behind the microphone. Even the legendary Tony Cozier, in his tribute, claimed to have learnt the intricacies of TV commentary from Benaud. He also wrote about the testing last two years of the 84-year-old’s life, where he suffered from two accidents and skin cancer. But Richie was missed not only in the Channel 9 box but on TV screens around the world. His demise puts a stop to understated elegance on air.
The last time Richie’s voice was heard around cricket stadiums Down Under was his heart-warming tribute to Phil Hughes. “Forever, rest in peace son.” Today, it’s our time to bid farewell. ‘Rest in peace Richie’. PAUSE