A hero of mine died today. An Australian cricketer and, most important for me, commentator. When I discovered cricket in 1968 Richie was already one of the voices of cricket on BBC T V. His style of letting the picture tell the story and only speaking to add to the experience of the viewer allowed you the sense of being there with a knowledgeable friend. He was also, with his idiosyncratic wordage and Australian interrogatives a balm from some of the Plummier British voices alongside him.
Sport hadnt registered for me before the England v Australia series in England in 1968. But my mother enjoyed listening to the commentary on the radio and gradually over the long summer holidays I became hooked. The last Test at the Oval still remains a kaleidoscope of fragmented moments. The huge innings by the English batsmen Edrich and D’Olivera, with the hints of the sport mets politics problems that loomed with D’Olivera’s innings – he was a victim of South wAfrican apartheid and his eventual selection, due to this innings for that winter’s tour led to the tour being abandoned and was the start of the boycotts that played a part in the collapse of that inhuman regime; the frantic Englsh batting on the penultimate day trying to make up for time lost to rain when my first hero – the vast and vastly talented Colin Milburn hit a massive six, an unusual experince back then and I still see grainy pictures of that crump of a howitzer of a shot; and the final denouement, with England winning the game with minutes to spare. People don’t undestand a game that lasts five days with meal breaks but for this 11 year old I learnt immediately how the fluctuations and frustrations over five different days make this a unique sport – easily the best invention of the British after the flushing toilet.
And Richie’s voice was there that first summer and all the summers until his retirement a few short years ago. He has punctuated my life with moments of searing emotion and near depression. He has had my stomach churning with anticipation and my days dragging with disappointment.
In a way even his death – at 2.22am England time – resonates. 222 is a double Nelson, a superstitious number for English, rather that Australian cricketers. A Nelson represents three singles – the one eye, one arm, one leg of Lord Nelson. Why that number is bad luck, who knows. Wiki may tell me but I don’t want anything as prosaic as the facts today. It’s all part of the discussions that cricket aficionados love; after all you need to find something to do to fill five days…
Thank you, Mr Benaud.