It was regularly said of Richie Benaud that his timing was impeccable. Understatement was his brand, dry humour was his gift to bestow at rare moments and his silence, after a particularly poignant moment was almost deafening. His gentle departure from the crease at age 84 is typical of the man; he has exited stage left at the end of a summer that will be remembered for so many of the things that Benaud witnessed during his illustrious career, all crammed into one tumultuous season. Perfect timing.
But whilst the bouquets pile up at the SCG in memory of this dignified statesman, this is not meant to be an obituary to Benaud. Rather, this is to lay my bouquet at the feet of Cricket Australia's administrators, who have emerged gracefully (and gratefully one suspects) from a season that no one could have predicted. There was no instruction manual, no blueprint, no form guide that could have prepared them for the events that confronted the logistics team this summer.
It is indeed rare and out of character to single out faceless administrators for praise at a time when the Australian cricket team won just about everything that was put before them. Yet, without these tireless people behind the scenes, the skill, courage and raw emotion that we saw throughout the season from the world's best cricketers would never have been. It is time for these men and women to do their lap of honour.
Dealing with the logistics nightmare that followed the Phillip Hughes tragedy must surely rank as one of the great administrative feats in Australian sporting history. There was no history to fall back on, no precedent to follow. This was uncharted territory and it was strewn with eggshells. They had to deal with the immediate aftermath of the accident at the SCG and the duty of care issues confronted by players, match officials, the Hughes family and an entire nation captivated by this awful moment. What followed must surely have been some of the most challenging times for an organisation that had to find the balance between compassion, sympathy, logistics and privacy. How they managed this with so much poise and dignity when it was still essentially the family's funeral wishes speaks volumes for the trust built up by the cricket family in the parent body.
Throughout this process, they had to sensitively question the players as to when they were ready to don the whites again. Revisiting the Test calendar, being mindful of ticket sales, pitch preparation, overseas travellers, hotel bookings and player fatigue was an unenviable task and yet, we finished up with a Test series that, despite the scoreline, was as gripping as one could expect in the circumstances. On and off the field, the Indians too played their part in this process. Without their acquiescence to the revised programme, it could never have happened.
Once the cricket started, it then became a fine juggling act of how to play competitive cricket, honour the Hughes landmarks and not venture too far into maudlin territory. Yes, there were times when the spirit of cricket was pushed beyond the pale, and some people felt that the whole "I did it for Hughes" thing might have gone a touch too far, but we must remember that this was reality TV in the raw. There was no script, no dress rehearsal. Cricket Australia had to think on its feet, keep its eye on the ball whilst still keeping its head bowed. The cricketers too played their part in this unfolding drama and their skill execution under pressure cannot be dismissed lightly.
To the hosting of a World Cup then and the massive logistics exercise involved in an event of this nature, complicated by the fact that it is meant to be controlled by the ICC. Where does one jurisdiction end and the other begin? Whose show is it anyway? What about the co-hosts across the Tasman? How best to be the consummate hosts and yet give your own team, the clear favourites, every home advantage that is rightfully theirs?
To the best of my knowledge there were no major hiccups or stuff-ups. The complex logistics were executed with adroit professionalism and the show barely missed a beat. I don't think we will ever fully appreciate the scale of the task, especially in an era when terror-related threats call for a level of security that has arguably never been more intense.
If Richie was at the microphone when Steven Smith pulled the winning boundary at the MCG, we would barely have heard him whisper "marvellous". The moment didn't need much more than that and Richie's timing was always thus. Exquisite. And for many of those people behind the scenes who worked through the nights to give us the summer that we almost never had, they will be pulling invisible strings to make sure the Benaud funeral walks that fine line between private and public, cricketer and man. They will rarely be recognised or praised, nor do they seek such endorsement. Just dedicate one of those bouquets to these good folk who have earned the right to draw the curtain on a summer of sadness and glory in unequal measure.