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Richie Benaud – The Voice of Reason

by Venky

Minimalist in his eloquence, and magnificent in his stillness, Richard “Richie” Benaud redefined the world of cricketing entertainment. Unassuming and unpretentious, he was to the sporting media what Donald Judd was to art. His demise marks not only the end of the proverbial epochal era, but also the passing of clarity – a clarity that leaves behind in its wake a vacuum that can in all probability, be never filled.

Benaud with his inimitable wit has recounted innumerable instances of youngsters questioning him about his having actually played the game. Even if this talented cricketer and the first to achieve the enviable distinction of cracking the Test double (2000 runs and 200 wickets) had not laid bat to a single delivery or uprooted a solitary stump, his contribution behind a microphone alone would have been enough to lend credence to his career as a cricketing genius. Like a plethora of bewildered youngsters, when I first started developing an inveterate affinity towards the game of cricket and an incorrigible addiction towards the controls of our first Sears Elcott Black & White Television set, I was clueless about the cricketing pedigree or the all-round credibility of an omnipresent and omnipotent luxuriant voice which used to inevitably manifest itself in the company of an equally pleasing fatherly face at the beginning of, during the course of and at the end of almost every cricket match. It took me some time to digest the fact that the gentleman in question had proven his heroics on the cricketing field many times over and had executed an unforgettable role in contriving the first ever tied Test Match. After a few more intrepid investigations, I also realized that this illustrious persona was the 190th cricketer to proudly wear the Baggy Green.

Over the years, Richie Benaud has grown into us and we, in turn have grown alongside him. His voice has been a soothing equilibrium guiding us through our irascible and impatient teens when a wrong decision or a rash stroke could produce an undesirable effect of releasing a glut of pent up emotions. Our transition to adulthood and poise was under the guarded supervision of his voice of reason. A favourite team’s loss was acknowledged (albeit grudgingly) as attributable to the superior ability of the opponent rather than to the intolerable inexperience of an umpire warranting a slew of invectives. Now when have been innately attuned to basking in the brilliance of his cricketing acumen, he decides to bid adieu, leaving a shocked legion of adoring fans.

Contrast these two pieces of actual cricket commentary:

  1. “Virender Sehwag stands tall like a midget in a urinal”
  2. “Nine no-balls to McDermott. Perhaps that is a wrong way to phrase it. That sounds as though it is going into his credit column. Nine no-balls against McDermott”

Two instances of seemingly inconsequential events having bare minimal ramifications on immediate proceedings. But there cannot be a greater illustration of a monumental difference between the banal and the beautiful. One a ridiculously preposterous, crass and out-of-place analogy bereft of either substance or sophistication. The other a smooth and glib description of the habitual folly of a bowler characterized and re-characterized in two mesmerizingly contradictory fashions. Richie Benaud at his minimalist best! Benaud’s shedding of his mortal coils following the departures of the egregious Tony Greig and the extraordinary Brian Johnston has left the commentator’s box in a confounding pall of gloom. Voices silky and succinct, strong and sincere, sudden and sarcastic no longer grace the air to enthrall and engross cricket aficionados.

Benaud once famously remarked, “The key thing is to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see”. He practiced this philosophy with a degree of masterly skill, and with the consistency of a metronome. While his exclamations (rare) were exquisite and elaborations (frequent) economical, his profound pauses were pregnant with the very essence of meaning. Firmly believing in the tenet of talking where necessary, he left the viewer to his or her own contrivances never making the cardinal crime of intruding into their private and fond association with the game. If for the loud Bill Lawry “it was all happening out there”, for a lambent Benaud “It was all bound to happen somewhere!”

Not for Richie Benaud, an uninhibited outpouring of emotions or a mindless chatter employing references to agricultural implements or an assortment of cutlery. Abhorring condescension and cacophony, avoiding patronizing remarks and profanity, Benaud’s description of the game was a beautiful mixture of concept, content and context. In a televised era, the facts are laid out in high definition for the viewer to see, digest and discern. A commentator’s prime responsibility is to lend contextual credence to the event, and this was where Richie Benaud was unsurpassed.

During an Australia v West Indies Test Match series, a searing delivery from Ian Bishop reared off a length after contacting a crack and whizzed past a flummoxed Matthew Hayden for four byes. Benaud’s description of this ball can only be described as magical:

“If you want some idea what sort of a pitch this is, you must keep that in your video library. It will give you a perfect idea”.

Minimum words, maximum impact. A current day commentator in stark contrast might have described the same event with reference to the delivery rearing with such unexpected spite so as to even interfere with the trajectory of a passing aircraft up high in the clouds!

Another stand out Benaud gem again stems from a confrontation between Courtney Walsh’s men from the Caribbean and Mark Taylor’s side. When the bickering and bantering between the two warring sides had reached a boiling point, the umpires drew both the captains aside and gave them a stern warning before asking them to stop the sledging. After describing the genesis underlying the act of the umpires, Benaud proceeds to pick his best ‘moment’ in the melee:

“Of all the things that happened over the last two days what I like the most is Michael Holding’s note about Robert Samuels who said that he feels that when he is out there batting he is given a sex education lesson”

When Benaud began his final commentary for Channel Four, at the Oval in 2005, the crowd reacted with spontaneous cheering and clapping, while the players reciprocated by stopping and clapping. “Thank you for having me,” he concluded. “It’s been absolutely marvelous for 42 years.

It has been our pleasure Mr.Benaud and you have been absolutely MARVELOUS! 2/222 will never read the same again!

Thank You Sir, Sleep well, and Rest In Peace.

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