Sunil Gavaskar was the first Indian Richie Benaud picked in his Greatest XI -- to open the batting with Sir Jack Hobbs; Benaud also praised Sachin Tendulkar's 1996 Test innings at Edgebaston
In Richie Benaud’s own words, there were only two legends of Australian cricket — Victor Trumper and Don Bradman.
“You are a legend too, Richie,” we can hear Australia’s cricketing fraternity saying in unison.
Sunil Gavaskar, Richie Benaud and Sachin Tendulkar
Benaud was a legend indeed going by his immense contribution to the game of cricket. As a cricketer, he was dashing with bat and ball. As captain, he was as charismatic as they come, as a writer, he didn’t believe in frills to make his point. His commentary career outlived all his other endeavours and it is in this sphere that he became a cult figure in his country and throughout the world.
Yesterday, cricket lost its voice and his wife Daphne lost her soul mate.
Kerry Packer, his erstwhile employer, was synonymous with Channel Nine but Benaud was the face of Channel Nine’s cricket coverage. Sadly, a car accident ended his career behind the microphone.
Benaud was great without being a maverick. Rarely would he venture out of the commentary area while a match was on in Australia. In England, where he didn’t do commentary after 2005, he would be seen on Saturdays at all venues to file his News of the World column. He ensured his press box entries were quiet and no one took liberties to be matey with him.
I remember the late cricket writer Rajan Bala telling me that Benaud was his hero but Bala never went near Benaud to have a chat like he often did with other cricketers. Fear or sheer reverence, I am not too sure, but that’s the kind of effect Benaud had on people.
In 2009, I emailed him, requesting for his memories of the Brabourne Stadium where Test cricket returned with the India vs Sri Lanka Test match. He rarely gave interviews so I didn’t expect a reply, but he did. And when Sachin Tendulkar completed his century of international centuries in 2012, he granted this newspaper permission to use his description of Tendulkar’s sandstorm innings in Sharjah against Australia in 1998 from his last book. He was kind and principled. And loyal. When a journalist pestered him for an interview during the 1996 World Cup, he said he wouldn’t do it because he always wrote for The Statesman.
Sunny, the tough cookie
Sunil Gavaskar was the first Indian Benaud picked in his Greatest XI — to open the batting with Sir Jack Hobbs. “Tough cookie,” is what he called Gavaskar whom he admired for his batting and captaincy during the 1981 Melbourne Test which India won. Gavaskar was adjudged leg before by umpire Rex Whitehead to Dennis Lillee for 70 and the Indian captain walked off, taking his partner Chetan Chauhan with him. Benaud felt Gavaskar got a “big nick” which goes to show how wrong the umpire was.
Benaud picked Tendulkar to bat at No 5 in his Greatest XI. Tendulkar, he believed, was the best batsman he saw after Bradman but others like Greg Chappell and Brian Lara were not far behind the Indian. He gave the impression that he didn’t read too much into the Bradman-Tendulkar similarity. “Tendulkar is just a fine player,” Benaud exclaimed.
And he always rated his unbeaten 148 at the Sydney Cricket Ground as the better innings than the one in Perth later on in that 1991-92 series. If Benaud has seen a better innings than that at the SCG, he didn’t say so.
He had seen Tendulkar play some great Test innings in England and Australia. He was on air when Tendulkar clubbed England’s Min Patel for a six to reach his hundred at Edgbaston in 1996. “You won’t see a better innings than that this year,” he said. “You may not see one next year either. Wonderful to watch and a privilege to be here!”
Wonderful and privilege… the very two words the world of cricket will associate their following of Richie Benaud with.