Richie Benaud, French-style cafe artiste in English game

  • Narayanan Madhavan, Hindustan Times, New Delhi
  • Updated: Apr 10, 2015 13:31 IST

Australia has always been famous for its power in world cricket -- best exemplified by its legendary batsmen such as Sir Donald Bradman, Victor Trumper, Ricky Ponting, Allan Border and the Waugh/Chappell brothers, or by pacemen such as Dennis Lillee, Graham McKenzie, Ray Lindwall or Glen McGrath.

But the nation has always had a less celebrated tradition of legspinners, who infused an element of style and craftiness in the game that was perfected to elegance in English public school grounds, but celebrated largely as an act of controlled power in the Aussie outbacks.

New Zealand-born Australian Clarrie Grimmett (who is said to have invented the flipper) ushered in the glory, and it peaked with Shane Warne's world-beating wickedness in the 1990. Between them came bowlers like Bill O' Reilly and Richie Benaud.

Benaud, who died on Friday aged 84, brought to this tradition a Parisian elegance -- very un-Australian, unless you count in the later infusion of the Masterchef culinary culture that the nation turned into a global entertainment export.

As a fourth-generation French Australian, Benaud was very much a New South Wales man, but seemed to have retained in his persona elements that belonged in the European city of cafes. Benaud was also an author, activist, organiser, adviser and critic, as Sri Lankan writer Harold De Andrado observed.

It was natural, then, that Benaud took to commentary. His Beatles kind of hairdo, darting eyes and a pronounced nose gave him a visual edge on television, complemented by a speaking style that was soft and reflective. The thoughts seemed to be a logical extension.

The three Test centuries at an average close to 25 puts him in the league of all-rounders but his 248 Test wickets, his captaincy and his commentary are what he will be remembered for.

If there is proof needed that there is more to Australian cricket than healthy, slogging country boys, Brett Lee's guitar play and Richie Benaud's intellectual personality may be significant evidence.

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