Review

In Richie's company

Three books on the master commentator and Australia captain offer you the wisdom of Benaud

Paul Edwards
Paul Edwards
20-Dec-2015
PA Photos

PA Photos

Sometimes it is wise to succumb to temptation. Asked to review three books that celebrate the life of Richie Benaud, this cricket writer is itching to respond in the pithy style of the great man himself:
Marvellous. Buy them.
And now he has. Not a word wasted there, and potential readers can get on with the business of ordering.
Yet even sitting at a desk, one intuits the late Benaud's distaste for hyperbole. Celebrate? If you must, Benaud might say, but can we please dispose of this great man idea? Before long, Benaud's list of truly great men and women is produced and one recalls his dismissal of the idea that Shane Warne getting out for 99 might be labelled "a tragedy". Words are not candyfloss.
All of which illustrate one of the beguiling paradoxes of Benaud's career - that while no one in cricket was more easily or frequently impersonated, there was still nobody like him.
All three of these books are anthologies and each has plenty to commend it. The ideal stocking-filler is probably Benaud in Wisden, edited by Rob Smyth, which does not suffer in the least from being confined to extracts from the Almanack but might have benefited from the inclusion of a contents page. A particular strength of Smyth's book is that the last third of it includes a season-by-season chronicle of Benaud's career, but we also have a host of tributes to his skill as a commentator and his shrewd assessments of his countrymen. For example, there is this from the 1973 Wisden on Dennis Lillee:
"Though he looks flamboyant in action on the field, Lillee is essentially a man of simple character, preferring a king-size steak to the more spicy continental dishes, and the occasional glass of beer to the magnum of champagne… On the field, a man who shows an obvious dislike to batsmen, he is of equable temperament once the day's play is over, and the only thing he is prepared to dislike in cricket at the moment is the type of field set for him in one-day fixtures on the England tour."
Remembering Richie is bulkier and pricier but is worth the extra investment. Put together by John Ford and Tim May, largely from the books by Benaud that Hodder and Stoughton have published, it offers a generous selection of Benaud's pieces and concludes with some fine tributes, none of which is better than Michael Atherton's. For example:
"Richie never morphed into an old-school bore. He rarely talked about his playing days, or his considerable achievements as a player. He never began a commentary stint or a sentence with "in my day"…He admired the modern player; he loved Twenty20 and all the technological advances, especially his beloved Snicko… He recognised that times change and comparisons are pointless. Because of that, the modern players loved him."
Hardie Grant's offering, Those Summers of Cricket, seems on first glance to be a slighter book, one that can easily be placed in the coffee-table category. But it is not so. For one thing, the photographs have been well-chosen and are superbly reproduced. For those of us currently thinking about how the camera supplies a different history of the game, they provide a wonderful chronicle of Benaud's career from the multifaceted springtime of Worcester in 1953 to the not-too-grand elder statesman speaking alongside a statue of himself at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 2008.
Some of the writing is very fine, too. Consider this from AG (Johnny) Moyes:
"No slow bowler can reach the top of the hill - it is a difficult upward climb - without much planning, perseverance and hard work. There is no proper pathway to success except through blood, sweat and tears, for the spinner must learn to take a hiding without giving ground. Purposefulness, endurance and brains are prime necessities. Benaud has these qualities, and that is why he finally emerged from the clouds into the sunshine of rich and continued success. He is without doubt one the most gifted slow bowlers in cricket's long history."
For some of us, Richie Benaud was always there, a soundtrack to our cricketing lives. Shrewd, articulate, wise, he was the perfect antithesis of RC Robertson-Glasgow's one-way critic. He was commentating when we fell for the game and he policed our love with astute observations.
As the cricketing world spins ever more rapidly we will wonder what he might have said about it all. Richie himself might observe that there are other commentators and we should listen to them. He might also add that it might not be such a bad idea if we made up our own minds a little more. Quite true, but when we need to be reminded of Benaud's unique voice we will have these three fine anthologies and his own books on our shelves. Marvellous, indeed.
Benaud in Wisden
Edited by Rob Smyth
Wisden
198 pages, £10.99
Remembering Richie
Richie Benaud and friends
Hodder and Stoughton
334 pages, £20
Those Summers of Cricket - Richie Benaud 1930-2015
Hardie Grant
185 pages, £20