Richie Benaud, Nation Builder

Dexter Caught

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

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.



Filed under Uncategorized

3 responses to “Richie Benaud, Nation Builder

  1. I am sorry that you repeat the myth that Benaud bowled into Trueman’s footmarks. Trueman did not bowl from that end during the match (or so he always used to claim). The rough had been created by Mad Jack Flavell, who was noted for getting close to the stumps in his delivery stride….backfoot rule et al.

    I also heard Benaud confirm what Trueman used to say…but I guess the legend has become fact.

  2. A helpful admonishment, Man in a Barrel. The moral? Best not rely on Wisden. And surely it was the line that was innovative and disconcerting.

  3. It was definitely a line that the English batsmen, especially Peter May, found disconcerting. I recall reading Close’s comments in his autobiography “I Don’t Bruise Easily”. May tried to sweep but, as Close relates, did not get his back leg in position to block the ball if he missed…hence bowled round his pads. Close was much more used to playing the “lap” as he called it – when did it become the slog-sweep? Against a ball pitched into rough outside his off-stump, the off-drive was perilous – and yet he scored a six. The “lap” was a better stroke in the circumstances and yet he got demonised by the Press for playing it and getting caught, in a rather unfortunate way. I am not entirely sure that O’Neill was where Benaud wanted him to be. I remember Benaud saying in interviews that Close nearly had him rattled. A couple more boundaries and the pressure would be right back on Australia. Benaud had a lengthy discussion with Ray Lindwall, the team manager, the previous evening about whether it was a feasible tactic and which line he needed to bowl, what fields to set etc. It was not improvised on the spur of the moment, which says something about how Benaud approached winning matches.

    The Trueman myth was sufficient to get him dropped for the next match, however. This meant that Ted Dexter played as England’s third seamer! That is probably where May and Dexter got the inspiration for their various and sundry selectorial flights of fancy. The result in the 5th test was a draw and the Aussies retained the Ashes. Flavell played at the Oval, despite having created the rough! You can see why Trueman was a little paranoid.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s