The world seems a darker place today following the death of Richie Benaud, the doyen of cricket commentators, and one of the greatest sportsmen in Australia’s history.
His catchphrase, of course, was “morning everyone”, and although we knew that he had been ill for some time (last November he revealed that he was being treated for skin cancer), his death still comes as something of a surprise.
To the thousands, nay millions, who grew up watching the game while listening to his silken tones, it is as though a part of us has died with him, as though a part of our childhood has been wrenched away.
Benaud was one of the few who transcended the sport and who impacted on people across the globe.
He will be mourned in Skipton as surely as in Sydney, where he passed away, aged 84.
In addition to the cavalcade of catchphrases… “Thank you, Peter” as he took over the microphone from the legendary Peter West… “He’ll get three for that” as he correctly predicted how many runs the batsman would get as soon as he had played his stroke… and so on, his greatest maxim was “less is more”.
It is a maxim that resonates particularly loudly in these days when most commentators adopt the opposite policy.
Turn on the cricket today, and you will hear television commentators talking non-stop as though they are on the radio.
Benaud only spoke when he felt that he could add to the picture.
Therein lay his genius, his great sense of timing.
The word “genius” is bandied around like loose confetti, but Benaud was truly a broadcasting genius.
So much so, it was easy, in fact, to forget that he was a very great cricketer too, a man whose place in the sporting pantheon would have been assured had he never established a second career behind the microphone.
After some early forays into journalism which fostered an appreciation of the trade that served him so well in later years, Benaud became a leg-spin bowler of the highest-class and a batsman good enough to score 23 first-class centuries.
He took 248 Test wickets at 27.03. He was a genuine all-rounder of the highest quality.
Predictably, the tributes are pouring in thick and fast.
“Farewell Richie Benaud. Wonderful cricketer, great captain, a master craftsman, commentator and top man. Will always be remembered and admired,” said Geoffrey Boycott.
“Richie, you were a legend on all levels and rightly so too. As a cricketer, commentator and as a person, you were the best there’s ever been and, to top it off, an absolute gentleman,” remarked Shane Warne.
Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards described Benaud as “the iconic voice of summer”, which summed it up perfectly.
Such is the impact felt by Benaud’s loss that the Australian government has offered to hold a state funeral.
Of all the memorable words he uttered during his commentary career, however, perhaps the most famous came at Headingley cricket ground on July 20, 1981.
England were playing Australia and England were in an almighty pickle, following-on and heading for defeat.
Ian Botham was in the throes of the greatest innings of his life, one of the greatest innings of all time, an innings that would lead England to one of the most famous victories the sport has ever known.
As Botham launched another straight six, Benaud said: “Don’t bother looking for that, let alone chasing it. That’s gone straight into the confectionary stall and out again.”