Never a hair out of place!

Test all-rounder, captain, man with an eye to the future, advisor to Kerry Packer, commentator supreme, voice of authority, able to see the future as clearly as he influenced the present; Richie Benaud was an extraordinary man by any standards. By Ted Corbett.

By now you will almost certainly be tired of the sort of obituary which tells you more about the writer than about Richie Benaud.

Still his departure is the event to write about so allow me to tell you about the private man who, so far as I can recall, never raised his voice, never swore, remained calm in the face of such calamities as the collapse of the scorer and who could be helpful, kind, full of anecdotes about men of my profession and his, and yet never gave away the many secrets he must have known.

Organised in a disorganised profession and precise when many round him were guessing. Ask Benaud a straight question and you would receive a straight answer, often with added detail, sometimes with a tale or a stat you could not have expected.

Helpful? Beyond question. When he was first captain of Australia on tour in England he told one evening paper reporter Dick Tucker: “If you ring me at 7.15 in my hotel room every morning, I will have something for you.” Of course, he had begun his working life as a crime reporter on a Sydney tabloid and knew the value of an insider’s cooperation.

Immaculate. Perhaps it was his family influence, maybe he had a first news editor who would not tolerate slovenly dress, but I never saw a hair out of place, a button undone, shoes without polish. It is just one reason why he could converse with those officials at Lord’s. Some really are lords.

It is also the place where King George V told off the chairman who met him in an immaculate silk suit but not in traditional morning dress. “Been ratting?” the old king demanded. He would never have had to ask Benaud that question.

I once watched him arrive at a hotel in Australia, marching across the lobby as quickly as any light infantryman, greeting the receptionist with a handshake, checking in and off to the lift in the sort of time he might have needed to take guard. “That’s Daphne, his wife,” my companion whispered. “Richie was well organised before he met her but she has doubled his efficiency.”

Daphne guarded him, particularly in his later years, like a mother cat tending her kittens but right to the end of his days broadcasting in England he was able to look after himself. We sat together in the press box at Lord’s late one afternoon and I could tell he was, in his middle 70s, tired from his day commentating and writing.

“That lady is looking for me,” he grinned. “I bet she wants me to spend a few minutes on BBC’s Test Match Special.” So it turned out but he spun the girl such reasons why he could not that she left smiling happily and murmuring: “Oh, thank you Mr. Benaud” as if he had granted her a place in heaven.

He could also be abrupt with those who did not deliver. Once, he told me, he took a taxi from his home in Sydney to the SCG, and had only travelled 200 yards when he realised the driver was intoxicated from drink or drugs. “I got out and warned him I was going to inform the police,” he said. “I hope he learned his lesson.”

Teaching was Benaud’s nature. He stopped using my copy for his Channel Nine magazine because I praised a stance taken by one Test captain — “these people have too much power and we must not encourage them,” he said — but wrote me a crisp note of praise when he liked something else I wrote.

He left another note for Mark Taylor who in his first commentary stint called an Australian wicket a “tragedy.” “Death in war is a tragedy, not an Australian wicket,” the note said. Mike Atherton, David Gower and many others have written that he helped them in their early days in front of a microphone and at least in that sense he has laid the way for a future in the commentary box.

Test all-rounder, captain, man with an eye to the future, advisor to Kerry Packer, commentator supreme, voice of authority, able to see the future as clearly as he influenced the present; Richie Benaud was an extraordinary man by any standards. The rest of the world may scoff at the suggestion that a sports commentator should be offered a state funeral — especially in a country where two ex-Prime Ministers have died recently — but his impact on Australia was as great as any man’s since Don Bradman. An honorary British knighthood — like those offered to Bradman, Viv Richards and the rest — might have been appropriate.

Polite to president and messenger boy alike, considerate to men and women in an era when equality is not always forthcoming, thoughtful; these are mighty characteristics to add to sporting and broadcasting success.

Richie had all these qualities and no doubt a few more I failed to note. However, I have one of my own to add to his scoreboard.

In a life almost as long as his I have refused to search for heroes. Too often they have feet of clay; too often their deeds with bat and ball are lessened when one sees them at close quarters.

Not so with Richie Benaud, a man without noticeable fault and, I make no bones about it, my only cricketing hero.

Oh, sorry, I forgot to tell you. When the scorer was taken ill, Richie took over her duties. She admitted afterwards that his work was immaculate.