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The other Benaud -- John, the former player & selector

You've probably heard a lot about Australia captain-turned-journalist/commentator Richie Benaud. Now, read about his brother John -- a former batsman and selector, who picked Shane Warne in 1992

Former Australia batsman John Benaud went from editor-in-chief of Sydney Sun (defunct newspaper) to a member of the selection panel that picked spin legend Shane Warne. He still considers his decision to retain Warne after the leggie's forgettable debut at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) here against India in 1991-92 as the wisest move of his cricketing life. SUNDAY MiD DAY spoke to John, the brother of legendary Australian cricketing personality, Richie in Sydney recently.
Excerpts from an interview:


John Benaud and Australian cricket legend Richie Benaud

What drove you towards journalism? Do you miss being a journalist?

It was a natural progression for me. I started playing cricket at the age of 10. After finishing school, I went straight to the newspaper industry. I started out as a copy boy. It was little strange when people used to constantly ask me about my brother (Richie) - how he was in real life and so on. I just wanted to focus on my career as a journalist. I do miss writing a lot. I wrote for a lot of Indian magazines too.

Could you talk us through your time as Australia selector?
I came in 1989 to take Greg Chappell's place on the panel. Bob Simpson, who was coach at the time, was also on the panel. It was probably a very good time to be a selector. The team had began its rebuilding process, had just won a World Cup. Allan Border was finally becoming a highly successful captain. We had some young players that were coming through. The Waughs were developing, (Tim) Alderman was at his peak, Craig McDermott was becoming a top-class bowler.

How was it to pick Shane Warne?
We first picked Warne as part of the Australian 'B' team that toured Zimbabwe. I travelled there to watch him. He and Peter McIntyre were going head-to-head � literally. Warne showed a lot of promise. He started to develop a flipper, a delivery he didn't have in his armoury before. We didn't really have a leg-spinner to speak of so we had to revert back to some offies like Greg Matthews and Tim May. There was a feeling on the panel that we would like to include a leg-spinner.

But, what convinced you to retain him after that disastrous debut (1 for 150) at SCG against India?
Sure, he conceded a lot of runs against India. But, the panel's philosophy was to stick to guys that we thought would go the distance. Warne was definitely one of them. I still consider it one my wisest decisions. Can you imagine if Warne hadn't got the backing he deserved? World cricket would have been poorer.

Can you tell us about your transition from editor-in-chief to national selector?
Yeah, in 1988 the Sydney Sun was taken over. There was the golden handshake, and I was ready to pursue other things. I was in a position to take over a selection role and part-time writing. It was pretty straightforward really. Everything has to come to an end at some point.

You ghostwrote a few autobiographies. Which one did you enjoy the most?
I worked with Allan Border, and then did one with Dean Jones on the art of playing one-day cricket. I worked a lot with AB. Honestly though; I am not a big fan of ghostwriting. I rather write things under my own name. But, I was inclined to do it back then. I had a very professional relationship with both Border and Jones. I spent a lot of time with Border; those were glorious days of my life.

As a batsman, you averaged 44.60 for Australia. Should you have played more than just three Tests?
My father gave me a very good insight into cricket: number one, it's just a game. And number two, you have to enjoy it. He told me to take setbacks on the chin. I enjoyed my cricketing career a lot but took those setbacks on the chin with a lot of maturity. When I was picked to play for Australia (in 1972-73), I had just got married, had two children and a mortgage to clear. I had to extend my cricket career with lots of other things. Cricket was never going to pay my bills. I was honest to myself. I knew that I was only in the top 15 best players in the country. I was never guaranteed a Test spot. Sure, I did okay when I got the chance. You know it's easy to look at batting averages and predict how a player could have gone. If I had played 30 Tests, I would have averaged only 20 (laughs).
 
You made your Test debut 15 years after Richie �.
Yeah, all my life I had the pressure of being Richie's brother on me. I had learned to cope with that. Once I was in the senior ranks, it was a little easier because people started to know me for who I was. But it's a badge of honour to be his brother, isn't it? It never impacted me negatively. At times, I thought it was unfair to make the comparison He was such a better cricketer than me.

Can you tell us some tales about Richie, the captain?
Everyone knew he was the latecomer. But, everyone had such regard and respect for him. There was of course the tale of when Frank Misson and Bill Lawry, the pranksters of the team, nailed his boots to the floor. That story got around a lot. I only once played under Richie in grade cricket. He was acknowledged as a great captain since the early days. Whenever he made a tactical chance, it resulted into something positive. I recall another player, who was in the opposition side, during a grade cricket match. He said that: "If Richie ever put his head into a bunch of pig slops, he would come out with a mouth full of diamond." He was trying to emphasise Richie's good fortune, and it was also a slice on him. But, the speaker was obviously ignoring the fact that Richie was a tactical genius - a captain that would come around once in a few hundred years.

What about the Richie's 'personal hug' after every wicket?
(Laughs) Those days we didn't have a ritual like the Southern Cross song, which Rod Marsh introduced later. When Richie took over as captain, there was a lot of criticism when he used to give personal hugs to each bowler that took a wicket. I remember writing about it as a journalist too. There were a few Australian cricketers who weren't fond of Richie's personal hugs. But they got on with it �they could never say no to their captain. There was always a lot of emotion around.

Do you think modern day cricket is missing tacticians?
Sure, tacticians are missing. But, you should keep your eyes on Michael Clarke. When this team comes together, when the unit becomes stable one, Clarke is going to prosper as a great captain. Clarke to me is the first captain in a long time to show some flair in his bowling and fielding changes. There is of course the modern day habit of putting fielders out after a few boundaries are struck. But that obviously stems from the one-day game. The likes of Richie and Ian Chappell were never in that position, they always thought of wickets. I do think that in Clarke we could see one of Australia's greatest captains ever. I strongly believe in that.

Richie was supposed to hang his microphone a few years ago. He has stayed on. Has he told you anything about retirement?
He will know when it's time to go. His friends will tell him. That's pretty sound judgment. He's going along okay as far as I am concerned. What I find most pleasing about his commentary is that he still lets the picture tell the story. There are commentators these days who like to exaggerate a lot. Richie still keeps it simple and that's his greatest asset. He's still the voice of cricket in Australia.

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