Richard "Richie" Benaud OBE (born October 6, 1930 in Penrith, New South Wales) is an Australian former cricketer who, since his retirement from international cricket in 1964, has become a highly regarded commentator on the game.
Benaud was a world-class Test cricket all-rounder, blending thoughtful leg spin bowling with lower order batting aggression. Along with fellow bowling all rounder Alan Davidson, he helped restore Australia to the top of world cricket in the late 1950s and early 1960s after a slump in the early 1950s. In 1958 he became captain of the Australian cricket team and, until his retirement in 1964, took international cricket into the modern era by emphasising the need for positive play, using his media expertise to communicate his and his team's goals clearly and effectively.
Gideon Haigh described him as "... perhaps the most influential cricketer and cricket personality since the Second World War. In his review of Benaud's autobiography Anything But, Sri Lankan cricket writer Harold de Andrado wrote: "Richie Benaud possibly next to Sir Don Bradman has been one of the greatest cricketing personalities as, player, researcher, writer, critic, author, organiser, adviser and student of the game.
He was made a Member of the Order of the British Empire in 1961 for services to cricket.
As a specialist batsman, he made his first class debut for New South Wales at the Sydney Cricket Ground against Queensland in the new year's match of the 1948–49 season. On a green pitch which was struck by a downpour on the opening day, Benaud's spin was not used by Arthur Morris and he failed to make an impression with the bat in his only innings. Relegated to the Second XI in the same season, he was struck in the head above the right eye while batting against Victoria in Melbourne, having missed an attempted hook. After 28 X-rays showed nothing, it was finally diagnosed that the crater in his forehead had resulted in a skull fracture and he was sidelined for the remainder of the season, since a second impact could have been fatal. He spent two weeks in hospital for the surgery. In his early career, Benaud was a batting all-rounder, marked by a looping backlift which made him suspect against fast bowling but allowed him to have a wide attacking stroke range. In the 1949-50 season he was recalled to the New South Wales First XI in late December for the Christmas and New Year's fixtures. The opportunity arose with the state's Australian representatives on duty in South Africa. He did not take his first Shield wicket, that of Queensland Test player Bill Brown, until his third match of the season. Benaud described the ball as "the worst I ever bowled".
The next season, England toured Australia, and with the Test players back, Benaud was initially forced out of the team. He was recalled for a match against Victoria, led by Australian captain Lindsay Hassett. Hassett was known for his prowess against spin bowling, being the only batsman to score centuries in a match against the leg spin of Bill O'Reilly, regarded as the finest bowler of his age. Hassett struck 179 in four hours, and took 47 runs from Benaud's seven overs. Benaud claimed Hassett in the second innings when a ball landed in a crack and skidded through onto his foot. In the next match against South Australia, he made 48, took five wickets and suffered three dropped catches by the wicketkeeper in successive balls. He was selected for an Australian XI match against England, but suffered a chipped bone in his thumb and was out of action until the last match of the season.
The 1951–52 season saw a tour to Australia by the West Indies. Benaud was given a chance against the tourists when New South Wales played them in Sydney after the First Test. On a green pitch, Benaud came in at 7/96 and featured in a century partnership in only an hour. The Caribbeans were skittled for 134 in reply and went on to lose the match. Benaud scored his maiden first-class century against South Australia. As a result, Benaud was chosen for his Test debut in the Fifth Test against the West Indies in 1951–52 in Sydney. Selected as a batsman, he scored 3 and 14. Hassett allowed him to bowl only in the second innings, when nine West Indian wickets had fallen and Australia were on the verge of an inevitable victory. Leading opposition batsman Everton Weekes, edged Benaud in his first over, but Gil Langley dropped the catch. Benaud went on to dismiss Alf Valentine for his first Test wicket, conceding 14 runs.
The following Australian season in 1952–53, Benaud started as twelfth man in the First Test against South Africa. After scoring 60 and 37 in an Australian XI against the South Africans following the Test, he forced his way into the team for the Second Test. He suffered a smashed gum and a severely cut top lip when a square cut by John Waite in the Second Test against South Africa at the Sydney Cricket Ground hit him in the face while he was fielding at short gully. Doctors told him he was lucky; it could have broken his cheekbones, jaw or removed his eyesight if it had hit any of the surrounding areas. It could have killed him if it struck him where his skull was previously fractured. He was married after the match and had to mumble his wedding vows. Benaud went on to play in the final four Tests. He made 124 runs at 20.66, making double figures in four of seven innings, but was unable to capitalise, with a top score of 45. His leg spin yielded ten wickets at 30.6, with a best of 4/118 in the Fourth Test in Adelaide when he was given a heavy workload when Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller broke down during the match.
The selectors persisted in Benaud despite his unproductive Test performances, selecting him for the squad for the 1953 Ashes tour of England. He had been seventh and eighth in the domestic runscoring and wicket-taking aggregates for the season, but was yet to convert this into international performance. He justified their decision prior to the team's departure, scoring 167 not out and taking match figures of 7/137 for the touring team against a Combined XI. He also put on 167 in a partnership with Alan Davidson, the first collaboration between the pair, who would later go on to lead Australia's bowling in the last five years of their career. He scored 97 against Yorkshire in an early game and ensured Test selection. He managed only eight runs in four innings in the first two Tests, and having taken only two wickets, was dropped for the Third Test. He was recalled immediately for the Fourth Test, but was dropped for the Fifth Test after managing seven runs and going wicketless. He ended the Test series with 15 runs at 3 and two wickets at 87. He also showed his hitting ability in a tour match against T.N. Pearce's XI at Scarborough. Opening the batting, he struck 135 in 110 minutes in the second innings, including an Australian record of eleven sixes, four of them in one over.
Australia's selectors persisted and selected him for the squad to tour the West Indies in 1954-55. Their faith was rewarded by an improvement in performances. Benaud contributed 46 and match figures of 2/73 in a First Test victory at Kingston. After a draw in the Second Test, he took three wickets in four balls to end with 4/15 in the first innings at Georgetown, Guyana, before scoring 68 (his first Test half century) as Australia moved to a 2-0 series lead. In the Fifth Test at Kingston, he struck a century in 78 minutes, despite taking 15 minutes to score his first run. He ended with 121 and took four wickets in the match as Australia won by an innings and took the series 3-0. Benaud had contributed 246 runs at 41 and taken wickets steadily to total 18 at 26.94, averages which were in line with those of specialist batsmen and bowlers.
During the 1956 tour to England, he helped Australia to its only victory in the Lord's Test, when he scored a rapid 97 in the second innings in 143 minutes from only 113 balls. His fielding, in particular at gully and short leg, was consistently of a high standard, in particular his acrobatic catch to dismiss Colin Cowdrey. He was unable to maintain the standards he had set in the West Indies, contributing little apart from the Lord's Test. He ended the series with 200 runs at 25 and eight wickets at 42.5.
Benaud's bowling reached a new level on the return leg of Australia's overseas tour, when they stopped in the Indian subcontinent in 1956-57 en route back to Australia. In a one-off Test against Pakistan in Karachi, he scored 56 and took 1/36 as Australia fell to defeat. He claimed his Test innings best of 7/72 in the first innings of the First Test in Madras, allowing Australia to build a large lead and win by an innings. It was his first five-wicket haul in a Test innings. After taking four wickets in the drawn Second Test in Bombay, Benaud bowled Australia to victory in the Third Test in Calcutta, sealing the series 2-0. He took 6/52 and 5/53, his best-ever match analysis, ending the series with 113 runs at 18.83 and 24 wickets at 17.66. It was the first of his successes against India, against whom he took his wickets at an average of 18. This put him in a small group of spinners whose career averages were inferior to their performances against India, generally regarded as the best players of spin in the world. At this stage of his career, he had yet to perform consistently with bat and ball simultaneously, apart from his breakthrough series in the Caribbean. He had managed, in the 14 Tests since then, 559 runs at 27.95 and 67 wickets at 24.98.
After a break in the international calendar of a year, the 1957-58 tour to South Africa heralded the start of a phase of three international seasons when Benaud was at his peak. The tour saw his bowling talents come to the fore when he took 106 wickets, surpassing the previous record of 104 by England's Sydney Barnes. He scored 817 runs including four centuries, two of them in Test matches. The first of these came in the First Test at Johannesburg, where after conceding 1/115, Benaud struck 122, his highest Test score, to see Australia reach a draw. In the Second Test at Cape Town, Benaud took 4/95 and then 5/49 in the second innings to secure an innings victory after the home team were forced to follow on. He followed this with 5/114 in a drawn Third Test, before a match-winning all round performance in the Fourth Test in Johannesburg. Benaud struck exactly 100 in the first innings, before taking 4/70 in South Africa's reply. When South Africa followed on, Benaud took 5/84, which left Australia needing only one run to win. He took 5/82 in the second innings of the Fifth Test, the fourth consecutive match in which he had taken five wickets in an innings, as Australia took a 3-0 series win. He had been a major contributor to the series win, scoring 329 runs at 54.83 and taking 30 wickets at 21.93, establishing himself as one of the leading leg spinners of the modern era.
When Ian Craig fell ill at the start of the 1958-59 season, Benaud was promoted to the captaincy ahead of vice-captain Neil Harvey. Harvey and Benaud had been captains of their respective states until Harvey moved in the same season for employment purposes from Victoria to New South Wales and became Benaud's deputy. Benaud had little prior leadership experience, and faced the task of recovering the Ashes from an England team which had arrived in Australia as favourites. He led from the front with his bowling, taking match figures of 7/112 in his debut as captain as Australia claimed the First Test in Brisbane. Benaud's men won the Second Test, before he took 5/83 and 4/94 in the drawn Third Test. Benaud produced an all-round performance of 46, 5/91 and 4/82 in the Fourth Test in Adelaide to take an unassailable 3-0 series lead and regain the Ashes, before scoring 64 and match figures of 5/57 to help take the Fifth Test and a 4-0 series result. Benaud contributed 132 runs at 26.4 and 31 wickets at the low average of 18.83, as well as his shrewd and innovative captaincy.
He then led Australia on its first full tour of the Indian subcontinent, playing three and five Tests against Pakistan and India respectively. Benaud took 4/69 and 4/42 in the First Test in Dhaka (now in Bangladesh), sealing Australia's first win in Pakistan. He took four wickets in a Second Test in Lahore that sealed the series 2-0, the last time Australia would win a Test in Pakistan until Mark Taylor's men in 1998, 37 years later. Six further wickets in the drawn Third Test saw Benaud end the series with 84 runs at 28 and 18 wickets at 21.11. Benaud made a strong start to the series against India, taking 3/0 in the first innings of the First Test in Delhi, before a 5/76 second innings haul secured an innings victory. Benaud had less of an impact on the next two Tests, which Australia lost and drew, totalling 6/244. He returned to form with 5/43 and 3/43 as India were defeated by an innings after being forced to follow on in the Fourth Test in Madras. A further seven wickets from the captain in the Fifth Test saw Australia secure a draw and the series 2-1. Benaud had contributed 91 runs at 15.16 and 29 wickets at 19.59. The first two seasons of the Benaud captaincy had been a resounding success, with Australia winning eight, drawing four and losing only one Test. Benaud's personal form was a major factor in this success. In the previous seasons when he and his team were at their peak, he had scored 636 runs at 31.8 with taken 108 wickets at 20.27 in eighteen Tests, averaging six wickets a match.
On his third and final tour to England in 1961, he was hampered by damaged tendons in his right shoulder, which forced him to miss the Second Test at Lord's known as the "Battle of the Ridge". In all he missed a third of the matches due to injury. Despite this impairment to his bowling shoulder, his team played with an aggressive strategy leading them to lose only one Test match and no other matches during the tour, honouring his pre-series pledge. The First Test at Edgbaston was drawn with Benaud taking three wickets. After Harvey led the team to victory at Lord's, Benaud had an unhappy return in the Third at Headingley scoring two runs in two innings and taking match figures of 2/108 as Australia lost within three days. With the series balanced at 1-1, the Fourth Test at Old Trafford initially brought no improvement, with Benaud scoring 2 and taking 0/80 in the first innings. He made 1 in the second before a last-wicket partnership between Davidson and Graham McKenzie of 98 yielded a defendable target. During England's chase on the final afternoon it became apparent that, with Ted Dexter scoring quickly, Australia would lose the Test unless England were bowled out. Benaud went around the wicket and bowled into the footmarks, having Dexter caught behind and then Peter May bowled around his legs. Benaud's 5/13 in 25 balls instigated an English collapse which saw Australia retain the Ashes. He finished the innings with 6/70. Benaud then took four wickets in the drawn Fifth Test to end the series 2–1. Benaud had a poor series with the bat, scoring 45 runs at 9 and taking 15 wickets at 32.53. He finished the first-class tour with 627 runs and 61 wickets at 23.54. He was awarded an OBE in that year and in 1962 was named as one of the Wisden Cricketers of the Year.
The 1961/62 Australian season was purely a domestic one, with no touring international team. Benaud led New South Wales throughout a dominant season, winning the Sheffield Shield with 64 of the 80 possible points. Benaud was the leading wicket-taker of the season with 47 at 17.97. His aggressive tactical style brought large crowds throughout the season, with 18,000 watching one match against South Australia. In another match against Victoria, he ordered his team to attempt to score 404 on the final day to take an unlikely victory in accordance with a promise to score at 400 per day. At one stage, New South Wales were six wickets down with less than 150 runs scored, but Benaud refused to attempt to defend for a draw. He made 140, in a seventh-wicket partnership of 255 in just 176 minutes, an Australian record that still stands.
1962–63 saw an English team under Dexter visit Australia. Benaud started the series with seven wickets and a half century as the First Test in Brisbane was drawn. This was followed by three unproductive Tests which yielded only 5/360 and a win apiece. Benaud returned to form with match figures of 5/142 and 57 in the Fifth Test at Sydney, a match which ended in a draw when Johnny Martin was out trying to hit a six from the final ball to win the match. The draw meant that the series ended 1-1 and Australia therefore retained the Ashes. It was another lean series for Benaud with the ball, taking 17 wickets at 40.47, the third consecutive series where his wickets cost more than 30. His batting was reliable, with 227 runs at 32.47.
At the start of the 1963-64 season, Benaud announced that it would be his last at first-class level. The first Test of the season, against the touring South Africans, saw high drama as Australia's left arm paceman Ian Meckiff was called for throwing by Colin Egar and removed from the attack by Benaud after one over. Benaud did not bowl Meckiff from the other end, and at the end of the match Meckiff announced his retirement. Benaud took 5/72 and scored 43 in the First Test, but then injured himself in a grade match, so Bob Simpson captained the team for the Second Test and won the match in Benaud's absence. Upon his return, Benaud advised the Australian Board that it would be in the better interests of the team if Simpson continued as captain for the remainder of the season. Benaud took 3/116 to complement scores of 43 and 90 on his return in the Third Test in Sydney. His final two Tests saw no fairytale finish, yielding only four wickets and 55 runs. His batting had been steady through with 231 runs at 33, but his bowling unpenetrative with 12 wickets at 37.42.
Benaud was awarded life membership by the New South Wales Cricket Association, but he returned it in protest in 1970 when his younger brother John was removed from the captaincy. In 1967-68 he captained a Commonwealth team against Pakistan.
During Benaud's captaincy, Australia did not lose a series, and became the dominant team in world cricket. His success was based on his ability to attack, his tactical boldness and his ability to extract more performance from his players, in particular Davidson. He was known for his unbuttoned shirt, and raised eyebrows with his on-field exuberance. Benaud embraced his players when opposition wickets fell, something that was uncommon at the time. Benaud's bold leadership coupled with his charismatic nature and public relations ability enlivened interest in Test cricket among a public who had increasingly regarded it as boring.
After retiring from playing in 1963, Benaud turned to full-time cricket journalism and commentary, dividing his time between Britain (where he worked for the BBC for many years, prior to joining Channel 4) and Australia (for the Nine Network). Overall he played in or commentated on approximately 500 Test matches, as he himself noted in one of his final interviews in Britain when asked if he would miss Test cricket.
The idea for what became his trademark, wearing a cream jacket during live commentary, came from Channel 9 owner Kerry Packer, who suggested the look to help Benaud stand out from the rest of the commentary team.
He also helped to design a computer-based parody of himself available for download off Channel 4's website called Desktop Richie. It was developed by the software company Turtlez Ltd. Having downloaded this, cricket fans would be treated to live Test match updates and weather reports from a cartoon version of Benaud with real voice samples such as "Got 'im!" and "That's stumps... and time for a glass of something chilled". On Channel 4's live commentary, Benaud often made sarcastic comments regarding the advertisement of Desktop Richie.
In 2004, Benaud starred in a series of television advertisements for the Australian Tourism Commission, aimed at promoting Australia as a tourist destination. Benaud's ad featured him in various scenic locations uttering his signature comment, "Marvellous!" He also appeared in Richie Benaud's Greatest XI a video in which he chooses his own XI. A limited version was shown on the Nine Network after a match between Australia and Pakistan.
Benaud has become a staunch advocate of cricket being available on free-to-view TV. He chose to end his British commentary career, which spanned more than 42 years, when the rights to broadcast live Test match cricket were lost by Channel 4 to the subscription broadcaster British Sky Broadcasting. Thus, the 2005 Ashes series was the last that Benaud commentated on in Britain. His final commentary came near the end of the final day of the Fifth Test at The Oval. His last goodbye was interrupted by Glenn McGrath taking Kevin Pietersen's wicket; Benaud simply wove his description of the dismissal into what he was already saying. Benaud intends to continue spending the Northern Hemisphere summer in Britain writing, and will continue working for the Nine Network.
Benaud commentated for the BBC TV highlights of the 2006-07 Ashes in Australia as part of his continuing commentary work for Australia's Nine Network.
Benaud's book My Spin on Cricket was published in 2005.
His younger brother John also played Test cricket for Australia.
His commentating is frequently parodied on the Australian comedy series Comedy Inc. and The Twelfth Man. In the case of the latter, comedian Billy Birmingham's impersonations of Benaud on The Twelfth Man comedy recordings has become legendary, spanning over twenty years.