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Richie Benaud's silent reproach to Trumpism

  • 15 November 2016


Climactic events demand we give an account of ourselves. Where were you when you heard that JFK was assassinated, or when the planes went into the World Trade Centre? If we can't remember, we fear we may convict ourselves of reprehensible levity.

In future years when I am asked what I was doing when Donald Trump was elected President, I shall have a ready answer: I was reading Brian Matthews' splendid reflection on Richie Benaud.

It is a writer's and a cricket lover's tribute. A difficult book to write: the fascination of Benaud's life lies in guessing at what underlies his poise, self-possession, skill and gift for telling words both as commentator and writer. But he refused all attempts to assist would-be autobiographers, including Matthews.

So Benaud does not probe what lies behind the public face but celebrates the gifts of an important public figure by teasing out the connections which created the possibilities that the man grasped. They include a day watching Clarrie Grimmet bowl, backyard cricket at a house later pulled down by a developer, the distant effects of the Maharajarkumar of Vizianagram on the ascension of Douglas Jardine to the English captaincy and to Benaud's tour of India, and the white clover flowers that helped the West Indies to tie a test. The book's detours invite reflection on our own times.

At the end of the 1950s many, including Don Bradman, feared for cricket. Test matches were characterised by a narrow competitiveness dominated by the fear of losing and by unhappy relationships between administrators and players. The games induced terminal boredom and diminishing public interest.

When by a series of accidents Benaud was made Australian captain the West Indian team was about to visit. He struck up an immediate friendship with the West Indian captain, Frank Worrall, whose path to the captaincy had also been circuitous, and both men committed themselves to play boldly. The first test was tied, the captains saw that both teams ate and celebrated together afterwards, lifetime friendships were made and public enthusiasm for cricket rekindled.

It was typical of Benaud to welcome people who were different and to celebrate their joys graciously. When Australia lost its first test ever to India, he led his team to applaud them and congratulate them personally. He also managed a racially mixed team in John Vorster's South Africa, drawing up guidelines that prohibited racial discrimination against its members, and standing up to