Richie Benaud – the greatest commentator of them all

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Mourning everyone.

Richie Benaud has died and a small part of our brain that responds to blue skies, lengthening days and Test cricket has also died. You can’t spend as long in someone’s company as most of us have spent listening to Richie and not feel like you know them.

There are other public figures who we see a lot; people who are familiar from newspapers and TV – but you don’t actually sit there with them for any length of time. That’s the difference. Richie was, in a very real sense, part of many cricket fans’ lives. He wasn’t just the soundtrack – which would be enough cause for mourning in itself – he was the portal through which the sport arrived. He brought cricket and taught cricket and most of us will be forever grateful for that.

Don’t speak – the art of commentary

Commentating’s like writing – everyone thinks they can do it. They think that just because they know the English language, they can do the job. It doesn’t really work like that.

You know the bit in a Test match when they pan round all the people in fancy dress. They did that once while Michael Slater was on commentary. Batman came on screen. “There’s Batman,” he informed us.

It’s not easy to talk for two minutes when you have no script and haven’t planned in advance what to say. Nor is it easy to sit silent for two minutes when you know you’re working as a commentator. But it’s about adding value.

Sometimes that takes a lot of words and sometimes it doesn’t. For example, Richie Benaud didn’t require many words to put into place what should be the first rule of TV commentary: “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it – otherwise shut up.”

The impossible trick

Poor commentators are easy to name, but what’s truly telling is that even the good ones start to get on your nerves with certain things after a while. Nasser Hussain’s pluralisation, for example: ‘Your Gayles, your McCullums, your Kohlis, your Maxwells’.

Point is, you can’t talk for hours and hours and hours and not get on someone’s wick. Cricket is a long game and familiarity breeds irritation. No commentator is universally loved – you need only read a ‘dream commentary team’ debate on social media or in the comments of a website to appreciate that fact.

Except Richie was universally loved. At least insofar as that’s possible. We feel the same about Richie’s death as David Cameron does. Shane Warne’s written something that moved us. These aren’t people who we’d normally agree with, let alone both on the same day, but yet we’re united by this.

To touch so many people without also pissing them off when you’ve commentated on long, drawn-out Test matches for fifty years is an incredible, just about impossible achievement. Richie Benaud is, sadly, irreplaceable.

He wasn’t a bad cricketer either. Not a bad cricketer at all.


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    1. “The cricket tune” is Soul Limbo by Booker T and The MGs. Just in case anyone wants to listen to it on YouTube (or, for readers of my age/peculiarity, dig it out of your gramophone record collection).

      Totally concur with your wise words in the obit piece. I even approve of the “mourning everyone” pun.

      Daisy met him several times, although not through cricket. I’ll swap notes with her this evening when we both finish work…

      …or in my case, at this juncture anyway, “work”.

      Missing you already, Richie.

  1. We are not, by nature, relentlessly happy, but blue skies, first morning of a Test and a long summer ahead… “Morning everyone” could just instantly fire up all that latent optimism.

  2. I have happy memories of our family listening to Richie together. Perhaps he was even a factor in your love of cricket. Thank you Alex. You have done him justice.

    1. Certainly a factor in my love of cricket, your majesty. And such an honour to hear from the King Mother on this sad day.

      My parents were not interested in cricket, so to me, Richie Benaud (and to a lesser extent Jim Laker) WERE the family with whom I followed cricket in those childhood summers.

      I never felt that I was being taught, nor condescended. But I learnt plenty, including how to love the game.

  3. He was, like almost all modern commentators, a former international captain. But I always felt that his greatest attribute as a commentator was that he forgot all that ex-player stuff and just commented as a fan.

    “No point in looking for that one… let alone chasing it… that’s gone straight into the confectionary stall and out again”

    In modern commentator-ese that would be, “Too short from Alderman and Botham has lifted that one straight back over his head for six. Now there’ll be a short delay while the ball is retrieved from one of the commercial opportunity tents, which gives us chance to take a look at Australia’s tactics here. Poor decision-making from the Australian bowler there, Geoffrey, wouldn’t you say? Better concentrating on a steady line outside off stump perhaps?”

    All the best commentators were fans first and foremost. Murray Walker, Johnners, Sid Waddell, Dan Maskill, Peter Alliss. I didn’t matter that they might have been players also, they realised as soon as they became commentators that because they were talking to fans, they should talk like fans. The modern lot still think they’re in a team meeting.

  4. I also reckon “Morning Everyone” should be retired from commentary like a player number is

  5. Every time someone catches a tennis ball in the back garden I find myself saying “what-a-kitch! What a kitch”
    Alright it’s quite annoying when I do it.

    1. I blame the goons who report this sort of drivel.

      If it didn’t get reported, then the politicians would not bother to spout off pretending to be human, leaving them to concentrate on kissing babies and making poor unfortunate children crease up in embarrassment while…

      …actually, now I come to think of it, reporting that sort of drivel is an act of heroism in the interests of child and indeed general public welfare. Good man, Sam.

  6. Back when the ECB flogged the rights off, I remember thinking that the worst thing about Sky taking all the cricket was that we’d no longer get to hear Richie on commentary.


    Sat down in front of me liveblog, revision material on my lap, tea near at hand. Going to be a great afternoon.

  8. Commentary surely isn’t just about speaking over the microphone. It’s a lot more. Something that the likes of Richie Benaud has shown so effectively. Hat’s off to the legend.

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