For people of a certain age this is Richie Benaud:
It is 1961, Old Trafford. The 4th Test. The Series poised at 1-apiece. England chasing 256 in 3hr 50 minutes (not even 20 overs in last hour then). Eng 150 -1. Twenty minutes to tea. 105 minutes for 106 runs. 9 Wickets. 9 wickets.
England’s hero is the dashing Dexter, Lord Ted, 76 in 84 minutes – the finest u will ever see – cutting hooking driving – total exhilaration.
Benaud is Nemisis – and will always be so to young and aching hearts. In an example of genius he mocks the conventional. “Cumin roun’ the wickettt” he tells umpire Phillipson.
40 years before Warne, my little ducks, round the wicket, a leg spinner round the wicket into
Fiery Fred’s Mad Jack Flavell’s footmarks*. The lion-tamer, the whip across the face of the bat …
Dexter’s fall: ct Grout, ct Grout, ct Grout, ct Grout – nail after nail after nail …
If a Lord had fallen, now came a Prince. PBH May. How can he be described? Agamemnon? Perhaps Agamemnon. Spic an span, hair as oiled as his Stuart Surridge bat. Facing that unfamiliar line with which Benaud now taunted the England Establishment.
May is bowled ’round his legs, 0. A nation humiliated.
Now Close. Brian Close. There is history. With May and authority. Close returning cannot but rub against authority. Who told him to smack it? Did May passing the Yorkshireman on the steps of the pavilion say, “Take him on, Brian.”?
Close drives and clears the boundary. Upon whose authority? Reckless rogue or private soldier obeying instructions? Cricket’s secrets. And a nation’s future gambled on a game of pitch and toss.
And then …
High into the deep behind square leg. Close ct O’Neill b Benaud. And Subba Row bowled Benaud, bowled Benaud, bowled Benaud, nail after nail.
Four for chips as youngsters now would say.
Then tea. 93 required, 5 wicks, 85 minutes. The batsmen: Solid Barrington a Wall before the Wall, light gloved Murray. Was it on?
Slasher Mackay trapped Kenny B lbw 4 & the Simpson & Benaud show did for Murray & Allen, for Richie’s figures 220.127.116.11
England lose by 54 runs.
Looking back and above at the black and white photograph from that afternoon, England cricket has never recovered. Never worked out what it is about. Certainty, like the Empire, was lost in
Trueman’s Flavell’s footmarks that afternoon.* That afternoon the sun set.
Each summer Richie returned with the weird job of describing and explaining this decline. High priest to Stonehenge he came, in robes like stone itself, officiating over the drawing in of days.
Australia never looked back – certain of its place.
England swung from public school amateur to utilitarian pro and back again. Sevenoaks (Downton) was sacked this week but Uppingham (Whittaker) remains, as if it were jolly jazz hatted Chapman still.
Looking at it this way, Australia may just have lost its Nation Builder.
But a Nation Builder is another Nation’s Slayer in our zero sum game, and an English youngster of ’61 cannot quite forgive him for getting Dexter out. Dexter in full flow. All England roaring. All England silenced by that snick.
*HT Man in a Barrel – see comment below.