The legendary Richie Benaud, who passed away aged 84 on April 10, was one of the most influential figures in post-war cricket. He was a champion leg-spinner, an inspirational captain, an eminent writer and arguably the finest commentator of our time.
Held in immense regard by cricket lovers across the world, Benaud, who was born in Penrith on October 6, 1930, became an indispensable part of the international game in his post-playing days through his delightful voice, which warmed our living rooms as the Australian and English cricket summers unfolded.
The image of Benaud in the minds of recent generations had been ingrained as the affable, sliver-haired gentleman wishing viewers a good morning and welcoming them to join him for a marvellous day’s play, and this is a testament to the seamless transition he made from the cricket field into the world of broadcasting.
Benaud himself once recalled an autograph-seeking 12-year-old boy at the SCG in 1982, who asked him whether he ever played cricket for Australia. Such was his distinctive charm in the commentary box that one often tends to overlook the fact that he was at one time an excellent all-round cricketer as well.
In a Test career spanning from 1951-52 to 1963-64, he played 63 times for Australia, scoring 2201 runs at 24.45 and more importantly, taking 248 wickets at 27.03. Overall, the New South Welshman played played 259 first-class matches, scoring 11719 runs and taking 945 wickets.
Benaud was the first man to achieve the double of 2000 runs and 200 wickets in Test cricket. As captain from 1958-59 to 1963-64, he led Australia in 28 Tests, winning 12 and losing four. He had the distinction of never losing a series, and was at the helm in the memorable Tied Test against the West Indies in 1960-61.
As a tribute to Benaud’s on-field achievements, let us go back in time and revisit five of his most noteworthy and impactful Test match performances:-
5) 121 v West Indies at Kingston, 1954-55
This was the first of Benaud’s three Test centuries. Australia had already secured the rubber 2-0 when the teams arrived at Sabina Park for the fifth and final Test.
Clyde Walcott (155) and Keith Miller (6/107) were the stars of the first innings as the West Indies posted 357. In reply, Australia slumped to 7/2 before Colin McDonald (127) and Neil Harvey (204) added 295 for the third wicket.
Miller (109) and Ron Archer (128) too reeled off hundreds and the score was 597/6 when Benaud came out to bat. After taking 15 minutes to open his account, Benaud proceeded to unleash an onslaught on the jaded West Indian attack.
He brought his fifty in 38 minutes and went on to his maiden hundred in just 78 minutes – then the third fastest in Test cricket. Fast bowler Tom Dewdney came in for special treatment as Benaud at one point collected five consecutive fours off his bowling.
He dominated a 137-run eighth-wicket stand with captain Ian Johnson, who contributed only 27. Johnson declared as soon as Benaud was dismissed for 121 in just 96 minutes. In all, he hit 18 fours and two sixes. Australia achieved their highest ever total of 758/8, and went on to win by an innings and 82 runs.
4) 7/72 v India at Madras, 1956-57
This was Australia’s first ever Test in India. In the first innings itself, Benaud produced a mesmerising spell – his career-best innings analysis – to pave the way for an easy Australian win.
After the Indians elected to bat, Benaud took advantage of an ultra-cautious approach adopted by the home batsmen. Drifting the ball sharply, he dented the top order after the opening stand had fetched 41. Openers Vinoo Mankad and Pankaj Roy both fell victim within the space of three runs.
With the score 97/2, Benaud provided another crucial breakthrough as he removed Indian captain Polly Umrigar. India crawled to 117/5 at the end of the first day, and Benaud’s three wickets had clearly handed the advantage to the visitors.
The Indian lower order found his leg-breaks too hot to handle on the second day, as the score slumped from 134/5 to 161 all out. He claimed his fourth wicket in the form of innings top-scorer Vijay Manjrekar before wiping off the tail with another triple-strike. His final figures read 29.3-10-72-7.
Australia replied with 319, which was enough to secure a victory by an innings and five runs. In the second innings, it was the pace of Ray Lindwall (7/43) that destroyed the Indian batting.
3) 6/70 v England at Old Trafford, 1961
Benaud was on his third Ashes tour of England, this time as captain. Australia were the holders of the urn and the series was locked at 1-1 when the teams came to Old Trafford for the fourth Test.
Brian Statham (5/53) help bowl out Australia for modest 190 in the first innings. The batsmen then gave England the upper hand as a strong showing from the middle order ensured a 177-run lead. Benaud disappointed, going wicket-less for 80 runs in his 35 overs.
A century from opener Bill Lawry (102) and an unbeaten 77 from Alan Davidson lower down the order brought Australia back into the match as their second innings totalled 432. England’s target was 256 with a little less than four hours remaining on the final day.
The hosts looked to be cruising along to victory at 150/1 with Raman Subba Row and Ted Dexter in the middle. The two shared a 110-run stand for the second wicket, with the latter looking in wonderful touch. Then Benaud, bowling round the wicket, had Dexter caught behind for 76 to open the floodgates.
Richie Benaud bowling at Old Trafford in the 1961 Ashes. He stunned England with a haul of 6/70 to guide Australia to victory (source – gettyimages/theage.com.au)
Despite his shoulder trouble which restricted his wrist movement, Benaud made remarkable use of the rough and went on to change the complexion of the match with one of the famous spells in Ashes history. Just two balls after dismissing May, he bowled his opposite number Peter May round the legs for a duck.
Brian Close was the next to fall, caught at backward short-leg by Norman O’Neill. Subba Row, who was looking set on 49, became Benaud’s fourth victim as he was bowled on the last ball before tea, leaving England at 163/5. The momentum had shifted completely and England caved in to a 54 run-defeat in the final session.
Benaud added the wickets of John Murray and David Allen to finish with 6/70, his best figures against England. He had truly led from the front, and this win meant that Australia retained the urn with a match to spare.
2) 100 and 9/154 v South Africa at Johannesburg, 1957-58
Benaud became the fourth – and remains the most recent – Australian to score a hundred and take a five-wicket haul in the same Test match. His superb all-round effort helped Australia to a series-clinching ten-wicket win in this fourth match of a five-Test series.
Australia were leading 1-0 coming into this match, and Benaud had a big role to play in the second Test victory at Cape Town, claiming match figures of 9/144. Moreover, he had made a career-best of 122 in the opening Test, which was also played at Johannesburg.
Coming back to the fourth Test – Australia, after electing to bat, had lost two quick wickets to be 52/2, at which stage a promoted Benaud walked out to join Jim Burke. With form on his side, he took the attack to the South African bowlers and was the dominating partner in a 158-run partnership with Burke (81).
He was the third batsman out, dismissed for exactly 100 when he miscued a hook off Peter Heine (6/96). He had brought life into the innings, and despite a slide from 213/2 to 234/7, the innings recovered to a total of 401 thanks mainly to Ken Mackay’s unbeaten 83.
In reply, South Africa, after a poor start, were rebuilding well at 104/3 when Benaud trapped Hugh Tayfield leg-before. The innings subsided from thereon, with Benaud returning to claim the last three wickets to finish with 4/70 and thus consigning South Africa to 203.
Following on, South African openers Jackie McGlew and Russell Endean put on 78. It was Benaud again who provided the impetus, as he snared Endean and Trevor Goddard in the same over, both caught by Bob Simpson in the slips.
South Africa began the final day at 126/2, with the obdurate McGlew looking well settled and determined to save the Test for his side. But he too could not keep Benaud at bay. With the score reading 147/2, it was yet again Simpson who took a fine catch in the slips to remove McGlew for 70.
This greatly jolted the South Africans, who lost their remaining wickets for 51 to get bowled out for 198, despite the best efforts of Ken Funston (64* to add to his 70 in the first dig).
Benaud took the wickets of John Waite and Peter Heine to complete figures of 5/84 in the innings and 9/154 in the match. It was his most complete all-round performance in a single Test match. He scored 329 runs and took 30 wickets in the series.
1) 11/105 v India at Calcutta, 1956-57
Benaud’s finest bowling performance came on an Eden Gardens turner laid out for the third and final Test of Australia’s maiden series in India. The visitors were leading 1-0 thanks to the win in the first Test at Madras.
Indian skipper Polly Umrigar inserted Australia in and almost immediately brought on his spinners. Off-spinner Ghulam Ahmed wrecked the top-order, reducing the score to 25/3. Peter Burge (58) atempted a middle-order revival, but Australia slumped from 141/5 to 177 with Ahmed taking 7/49.
India wobbled to 20/2 in reply, but Nari Contractor and Vijay Manjrekar shared 56 runs for the third wicket. Benaud, the man with the golden arm, struck for Australia as he turned one straight onto Contractor’s pads. Vinoo Mankad followed four runs later, also out LBW.
Benaud was extracting the most out of the pitch, and when he had Gulabrai Ramchand stumped, the score had crashed to 82/5. With the bulk of their batting dismissed, the Indians folded for 136. Benaud scalped Manjrekar, AG Kripal Singh and Naren Tamhane as well en route to figures of 6/52.
The 41-run lead on this pitch was worth its weight in gold. Australia’s second innings was a little better than the first, but every run counted as the pitch was fast deteriorating. Neil Harvey made a valuable 69, which propelled the total to 189/9 whereupon captain Ian Johnson declared.
India were set 231 to win with more than two days left. Openers Contractor and Pankaj Roy began well by adding 44, but the Australian spinners soon put their team on top. Johnson dismissed Contractor while Jim Burke accounted for Roy.
Umrigar and Manjrekar put on another 44 for the third wicket, but just like the first innings, Benaud produced the much-needed breakthrough. He removed both the set batsmen within the space of five runs to reduce India to 99/4 and give Australia the edge.
With the off-spin of Burke (4/37) for support, he severely dented the middle-order with his variations and control and thus extinguished India’s victory hopes. Just as in the first innings, Mankad, Singh and Tamhane all succumbed to Benaud’s wiles.
India were again bowled out for 136 to give Australia a 94-run victory. Winning in the sub-continent has always been a massive task, but Australia managed to win their first series in India. Benaud took 5/53 in the second innings and his match figures of 11/105 by an Australian at this venue.
He was by far the highest wicket-taker in the series, with 23 in three matches at 16.86. His overall record in India was outstanding – 52 wickets in eight Tests at 18.38.
Rest in peace, Richie Benaud. Thank you for enriching the great game we love.
Watch Benaud’s leg-spin at its best – https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zG4PU4aZmOk