One of the few guarantees in life, beyond England’s ignominious World Cup exits, is death. Eventually the grim reaper comes for each and every one of us. And, despite this certainty, one is never truly prepared for it before it happens. And so it was that we woke this morning to find that Richie Benaud was gone. No-one was massively surprised – he was 84 and had been battling a number of health issues for a while – but it still hit us like a punch to the stomach; a very different feeling to that surrounding the death of Philip Hughes, more sadness than shock, but no more pleasant.
Benaud came from a different age, yet spanned generations. Surely everyone with a passing interest in cricket will be saddened today. All who pass away get lauded; in Richie’s case (it seems appropriate to use his first name, such is his familiarity to us all) it is genuine, and the messages of grief, sympathy and fondness come from all ages and all nations, from both inside and outside the game.
Remember that he was a top-class sportsman before becoming a journalist and commentator. Once upon a time that was rare. The other cricket broadcasters who could possibly be compared with him – Tony Cozier, John Arlott, Brian Johnston, Christopher Martin-Jenkins – all tended to be massive enthusiasts who weren’t quite able to make the grade. But he shared with them the ability to articulate and to explain and to commentate whilst retaining a sense of humour, all in his vernacular Australian voice – smoother than the finest white wine.
In the pantheon of commentators, he is up there with the best from all sports: Bill McLaren, Peter O’Sullevan, Murray Walker, Peter Alliss, David Coleman. All the voices of their respective sports. Some gone, the rest sadly on the final straight.
In the future, when the preface to the Laws are being considered, when the behaviour and attitude of cricketers of any level are being discussed, then the question should be “would Richie approve?”. He was not just the voice of cricket, but the spirit of cricket as well, as evidenced by his unusual rage at the ‘underarm’ incident of 1981.
The game itself will move on, as it always must. It survived the death of Johnners, CMJ, Tony Greig and many more before, no individual ever being bigger than the game. It saddens us to think that in years to come there will be a generation unfamiliar with Benaud’s relaxed mastery of the art of commentary, instead having their minds destroyed by the rabble that does such a poor job of voicing the Australian summer in his absence. But for those of us for whom Benaud’s voice is as much the sound of cricket as leather on willow, we shall never forget just what he brought to the game, enriching it in his own unique way, often by picking the perfect moment to say nothing at all.
All we can say is thank you Richie. Thank you for more memories than we can possibly remember.