SYDNEY (Reuters) – “Morning everyone.”
At the sound of this prosaic but unmistakeable greeting, cricket fans for half a century knew they were about to spend a few hours in the company of one of the great sports broadcasters of the television age.
All-rounder, Australia captain, journalist and author, Richie Benaud played other roles over his 84 years but they rarely took him far from the cricket oval.
Few had more influence on the game in the latter half of the 20th century, from the on-pitch celebrations which helped drag cricket out of its post-war austerity to his championing of the World Series project that was to transform the sport.
It was at the microphone that he had his biggest impact, of course, his idiosyncratic but always measured delivery becoming the favoured accompaniment to cricket for millions.
“He was authoritative but not pedantic, dignified but not pompous, and never spoke unless he had something to say,” Gideon Haigh wrote in his obituary of Benaud.
“He was so popular that many humourists strove to imitate him, so distinctive that none ever quite got him right.”
Even without his mastery of the art of commentary, Benaud would still be remembered as one of cricket’s finest leg-spinners and most successful test captains.
As a bowler, magic came out of the back of his hand as it had for Bill “Tiger” O’Reilly before him, and as it would for Shane Warne after him.
In the statistics so revered in cricket, he took 248 wickets at 27.03 and scored 2,201 runs at 24.45 over 63 tests.
As a skipper, standing bare-headed with his white shirt unbuttoned to expose a bit of sun-tanned chest, he earned a reputation as one of a new breed of aggressive captains.
That was most amply illustrated in the fourth test of the 1961 Ashes series at Old Trafford when, having decided saving the match was impossible, he sent his players out to win it.
Benaud, bowling around the wicket, took 6-70 as they did just that, going 2-1 up in the series to ensure they would retain the urn.
His playing peak probably came just before that when Australia took on Frank Worrell’s West Indies in 1960-61, an exhilarating series that included the first tied test and a dramatic draw at Adelaide Oval.
Always impeccably prepared for everything in life, Benaud had planned the transition into a media career long before he finally hung up his baggy green cap in 1964.
His 42-year stint on British television came to the end at the conclusion of the 2005 Ashes series, when the crowd and both teams at the Oval rose to acclaim him.
There was to be no similar send off in Australia after a car crash near his home in the Sydney suburb of Coogee in 2013 left him too frail to travel.
A full life only took him 40 miles from his birthplace in Penrith to that beachside home close to his beloved Sydney Cricket Ground, but his voice continues to resonate around the world in the memories of millions.
(Editing by ….)