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Farewell Richie Benaud, and your Marvelous commentary team

by achettup

And so, Richie is gone, and it shook me up a lot more than I thought it would, more than when I first learned he was fighting skin cancer. So much so that, despite having lost almost all interest in cricket over the last few years and barely watching half a game this world cup, I woke up at 3 am this morning sweating, recalling how much I loved Boxing Day in the 90s. And how far I drifted from the game as it evolved, both inside the commentary box (ah, so regrettably) and outside.

Two decades ago, it was such a joy to watch a test series being hosted in Australia. The grounds always looked so pristine under azure skies. The quality of cricket was almost always top notch. And then there was the commentary, which just took the experience to another level. Perhaps it was the banter and camaraderie that came so naturally with working together for so long, perhaps it was how strikingly different and original each member was. But whatever it was, the Channel 9 commentary team of that era brought the game to life.

There was Bill Lawry of course, who could barely contain his exuberance. There was the mischievous  Tony Grieg, always needling either one of his co-commentators or sections of the audience. There was Ian Chappell with his no nonsense and common sense approach, always trying to spot something seemingly insignificant and pointing out its technical importance. None of these three ever hesitated to call out one another if they believed a tall claim was being made, and they minced no words. But when they disagreed with Richie, there was always that little bit of extra respect.

Richie almost never chastised anyone, the one time he did not hide his disgust, (the underarm incident) people were so stunned that the video has endured to this day as the quintessential reaction of the age to the controversy. He stood by his convictions though, and a few years ago while the rest of the (new and not so admired) crew were tearing into Nathan Lyon, it was Richie who backed him up and compared his own stats to Nathan's after the same number of tests. As with most of his prescient observations, that faith he showed in Lyon was built on a solid understanding of the game drawn from both playing and observing at the highest levels.

They all had roles to play, and they played them perfectly. Lawry was the excited patriotic fan (who can forget his "Canary yellow??? That's Australian gold and don't you ******* forget it" to of course, none other than Tony), Grieg the brash antagonizer, Chappell the straight talker and Richie... well Richie just brought it all together with a pithy one liner. They agreed, they disagreed, they held completely different points of view, but all the while they kept the viewer engaged and enriched those few hours of the day. What shone through though, was their love and knowledge of the game. Several commentators since have tried emulating their style, individually and as a group. Yet I don't know if any will ever garner the affection this team did.

Sport commentary comes in all shapes and forms. For some sports, such as Snooker or Billiards it is perhaps not needed (the commentators do actually go silent during a break), while for others like Formula One, it is integral to the sport (just imagine watching a race without the commentary, the only audible sound being the engines). For the more fast paced sports, like boxing or football, the television commentator's role is hard to distinguish from a radio commentator's role, merely describing events as they happen, yet people adore their passion, they just love hearing that simple narrative. Cricket has always been a different beast, given that people have always referred to it as being more intellectually inclined, and the long pauses between play... between each ball, each over, each session, each day... It is only natural that television viewers demanded more of the men and women who would describe the game. Very few could ever have demanded more of Richie, as he succinctly captured the essence of a moment, or his team. Cricket, and especially cricket commentary, may never again have that charm.

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