Benaud still rules the commentary roost
The sun could be about to set on Richie Benaud's time in the television spotlights, but he is still unmatched when it comes to finding Australia's most magical cricket broadcaster. Benaud, 76, is currently two years into a three-year contract with Nine and whispers abound that he is entering his final spell after a reign making John Howard's time in office feel like the length of a summer holiday.
If the results of the first www.baggygreen.com.au poll to pick the country's best commentator are a guide he should be re-signed again and again. Benaud began with Nine in Australia in 1977 and his popularity has been enhanced by 42 summers inside England television screens. With his impressive global coverage mixed with his carefully-spaced words and under-stated delivery, he has become a lasting - and virtually unbeatable - favourite.
He received almost 20% of the nominations from the 15,641 readers who chose their favourite during the four-week voting period. Benaud polled well immediately, leading by 389 after the first week, and increased his buffer over the second-placed Kerry O'Keeffe to 851 by stumps. O'Keeffe, 57, has impressed ABC audiences with his clever analysis, witty one-liners and throaty laugh, and he ensured former Test legspinners filled the top two places.
The ABC occupied two of the first four spots, with Jim Maxwell the only non-first-class player appearing above the halfway point of the 26 contenders. Bill Lawry's enthusiastic screeching earned him third spot, 730 votes behind O'Keeffe, while Mark Nicholas, who is being groomed as the man most likely to take over Benaud's chair, was an encouraging fifth. Tony Greig and Peter Roebuck also showed English backgrounds were not a disadvantage by finishing 8th and 10th.
Fresh talent was rewarded when Damien Fleming, who sits in both the ABC and Fox Sports camps, placed sixth while Michael Slater's exciting calls earned him a spot at No. 7. Mark Waugh (9th) performed well on his return to the domestic circuit as a talking head, elbowing in front of his former team-mates Ian Healy (11th) and Mark Taylor (15th) to earn a berth in the top ten. Seven of the dozen most popular commentators were from Nine while the ABC had three-and-a-half representatives thanks to Fleming's split roles.
State supporters will be forever grateful that Fox Sports has increased its coverage of the domestic game, but many must have been watching with the sound down. Nine of the 14 least popular candidates, including Keith Stackpole and Kim Hughes, who are used sparingly on the radio, were from pay television.
Allan Border, who was one of six former Australia Test captains on the list, narrowly edged out Brendon Julian, the Fox Sports anchor, for 13th. The new Australia selector Jamie Cox did not make an impact on the masses, polling only 81 votes, which was 27 fewer than Simon O'Donnell, who is at the wrong end of the field for someone with so much high-profile exposure on Nine.
Danny Morrison, the former New Zealand bowler, finished his first season in Australian commentary boxes ahead of his Fox Sports stablemate Darren Berry, who propped up the field with 65 nominations. Thanks to everyone for your votes and tributes.