Richard “Richie” Benaud
was an Australian cricketer
who, after his retirement from international cricket in 1964, became a highly regarded commentator on the game. Benaud was a Test cricket all-rounder
, blending thoughtful leg spin bowling with lower-order batting aggression. Along with fellow bowling all-rounder Alan Davidson
, he helped restore Australia to the top of world cricket in the late 1950s and early 1960s after a slump in the early 1950s. In 1958 he became Australia’s Test captain
until his retirement in 1964. He became the first player to reach 200 wickets
and 2,000 runs in Test cricket, arriving at that milestone in 1963.Gideon Haigh described him as “perhaps the most influential cricketer and cricket personality since the Second World War.”
In his review of Benaud’s autobiography Anything But
, Sri Lankan cricket writer Harold de Andrado
wrote: “Richie Benaud possibly next to Sir Don Bradman
has been one of the greatest cricketing personalities as player, researcher, writer, critic, author, organiser, adviser and student of the game.”
Benaud was born in Penrith
, New South Wales
, in 1930. He came from a cricket family. His father Louis, a third generation Australian of French Huguenot
was a leg spinner
who played for Penrith
in Sydney Grade Cricket
, gaining attention for taking all twenty wickets in a match against St. Marys
for 65 runs. Lou later moved to Parramatta
region in western Sydney, and played for Cumberland
. It was here that Richie Benaud grew up, learning how to bowl leg breaks
under his father’s watch.
Educated at Parramatta High School
, Benaud made his first grade debut for Cumberland at age 16, primarily as a batsman.
In November 1948, at the age of 18, Benaud was selected for the New South Wales Colts, the state youth team. He scored 47 not out and took 3/37 in an innings win over Queensland.
As a specialist batsman, he made his first class debut for New South Wales
at the Sydney Cricket Ground
in the New Year’s match of the 1948–49 season. On a green pitch which was struck by a downpour on the opening day, Benaud’s spin was not used by Arthur Morris
and he failed to make an impression with the bat in his only innings, scoring only two.
New South Wales were the dominant state at the time, and vacancies in the team were scarce, particularly as there were no Tests that season and all of the national team players were available for the whole summer.
Relegated to the Second XI after this match, he was struck in the head above the right eye by a ball from Jack Daniel
while batting against Victoria
, having missed an attempted hook. After 28 X-rays showed nothing, it was finally diagnosed that the crater in his forehead had resulted in a skull fracture and he was sidelined for the remainder of the season,
since a second impact could have been fatal. He spent two weeks in hospital for the surgery.
This was the only match he played for the second-string state team that summer.
In his early career, Benaud was a batting all-rounder, marked by a looping backlift which made him suspect against fast bowling but allowed him to have a wide attacking stroke range.
At the start of the 1949–50 season, he was still in the Second XI, but when the Test players departed for a tour of South Africa
vacancies opened up. Benaud was recalled to the New South Wales First XI in late December for the Christmas and New Year’s fixtures. With Ray Lindwall
, Keith Miller
and Ernie Toshack
, three of Australia’s leading four bowlers from the 1948 Invincibles tour of England
unavailable, Benaud bowled heavily in some matches. However, he did not have much success in his five games, taking only five wickets at 54.00.
He took the wicket of Queensland batsman Bill Brown
in his third match of the season. Benaud erroneously recalled in an autobiography that this was his maiden wicket—it was his fourth—and described the ball as “the worst I ever bowled”.
He had more success with the bat, scoring 93 and narrowly missing a century against South Australia
. He added another fifty and ended with 250 runs at 31.25.
The next season, England
toured Australia, and with the Test players back, Benaud was initially forced out of the team. He was recalled for a match against the Englishmen. He was attacked by the touring batsmen, taking 1/75 from 16.5 overs in his first outing against an international outfit.
His only victim was the all-rounder Trevor Bailey
He scored 20 not out and was entrusted with the ball in the second innings.
In the next Shield match against Victoria, led by Australian captain Lindsay Hassett
, Benaud came in for attack.
Hassett was known for his prowess against spin bowling, being the only batsman to score centuries in a match against the leg spin of Bill O’Reilly
, regarded as the finest bowler of his age. Hassett struck 179 in four hours, and took 47 runs from Benaud’s seven overs.
The young leg spinner claimed Hassett in the second innings when a ball landed in a crack and skidded through onto his foot. He ended with 3/56, the first time he had taken three wickets in a match. In the next match against South Australia, he made 48, took 4/93 and 1/29 and suffered three dropped catches by the wicketkeeper in successive balls. Benaud was cementing his position and was in the senior team for four consecutive matches even with the Test players available. He was selected for an Australian XI match against England, in what was effectively a trial for Test selection, but suffered a chipped bone in his thumb. This put him out of action until the last match of the season, and put paid to any hopes of quick rise to international cricket. Benaud returned and scored 37 and took a total of 2/68 in the final match, ending the season with 184 runs at 36.80 and 11 wickets at 34.63.