[personal profile] magister
Richie Benaud last commentated on UK tv cricket coverage in September 2005. He quit because that was the last free-to-air coverage on British television as the ECB had sold the rights to Sky. It's rather remarkable really that there's such a feeling of loss at the death of a man whose voice hadn't been heard in the Uk for 10 years. Remarkable - and also absolutely right.

I suspect everyone has their favourite piece of commentary from Benaud - for many, it's his reaction to Botham planting Terry Alderman into the crowd during the '81 Headingley Ashes test, once described as the greatest comeback since Lazarus. As the grievously abused ball ricocheted away, over the air came Richie's voice - "Don't bother looking for that, never mind chasing it. It's gone into the confectionary stall and out again."

My favourite came in a pretty much unmemorable test between England and New Zealand in 1990. Trevor Franklin had made a lengthy century, which probably brought pleasure only to Mr Franklin and, perhaps, his parents. England had mounted a minor comeback - 3 wickets for a dozen or so runs in an hour. In came Richard Hadlee - never a man to die wondering. Hadlee had once had a reputation for feasting on slow bowling but being a little insecure against anything over medium pace, so Gooch brought on Gladstone Small with the new ball, in the hope of cleaning up Hadlee and then the tail. In steamed Small, whose first three deliveries went back past his head for 2 fours and a six, more runs in three deliveries than in the previous hour. It was like switching channels from Ingmar Bergman to the Keystone Kops. "Oh, I like this," gurgled Richie delightedly. "This is good fun."

Richie quit back in 2005 specifically because he had always worked on free-to-air television and saw no reason to change that. Looking at how cricket commentary has changed since, it's a moot point whether there would still be a place for him, or whether his departure was the first stone that hastened the avalanche. He had eight rules of commentary that he tried to stick to:

1.Never ask for a statement.
2.Remember the value of a pause.
3.There are no teams in the world called 'we' or 'they'.
4.Avoid cliches and banalities, such as 'he's hit that to the boundary', 'he won't want to get out now', 'of course', 'as you can see on the screen'.
5.The Titanic was a tragedy, the Ethiopian drought a disaster, and neither bears any relation to a dropped catch.
6.Put your brain into gear before opening your mouth.
7.Concentrate fiercely at all times.
8.Above all, don't take yourself too seriously, and have fun

The most important, I think, was the second which he also summed up as "If you can't add anything to the picture, keep quiet."

For an idea of how things have changed since then, Geoff Lemon's criticism of Channel 9's coverage is long, but worth a read.


If you don't fancy reading it, a summary would be - talk about the cricket or don't talk at all.

Gideon Haigh interviewed Benaud for The Guardian back in 2005 in the run up to his last commentary in England. When the photographer with him asked Benaud to pose as if commenting on a dramatic piece of play, his answer was "I probably wouldn't be saying anything." Sadly I don't think that would work these days.

Someone's posted on Youtube Benaud's last few minutes of commentary from September 2005.


It's a slightly atypical piece, because there's actually a hint of emotion there and of something personal being revealed. What's much more typical is that when Richie's farewell speech is interrupted by the fall of a wicket, he goes straight back into talking about the game, the speech abandoned, and then quietly hands over to the next two commentators. The game was always more important. And by always recognising that fact, he became an icon.


James Brough

August 2017

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