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2001: Richie Benaud

Monday 16th July 2001

If I am in an audience where there is cricket to be talked about, I always think it’s rather ominous when the main speaker brings his own water up to the podium. It rather indicates it could be a long, hard night.

My lords, ladies and gentlemen, we have moved on 119 years since Billy Murdoch and Fred Spofforth, who were talked about in that video by Colin, did the job at The Oval in 1882 and then there followed that famous obituary – the mock obituary – that Colin talked about, from which The Ashes have sprung.

The game has flourished in many ways since then, and that is good. Unfortunately, it has had its setbacks as well and there have been plenty of changes. I was very pleased to hear a couple of years ago from A.R. Lewis, the past President of MCC, that in the pipeline there was a Preamble and a Spirit of Cricket. Because I had no details of this, I phoned Lewis from Australia and asked him whether it was possible to let me have some idea of what was going to be done, and he did that. He sent me the bare bones of what now is the Preamble and the Spirit of Cricket, and I was so impressed I rang him back straight away and said, “Go for it. This is going to be one of the great things,” – and that was before everyone knew that it was going to be written into the frontispiece of the Laws.

One of the reasons I am standing here tonight is that I have seen all those setbacks I talked about and I have seen all the good things in 50 of those 119 years, as indeed have many of the people here as guests this evening. The other reason is that 48 years ago, as a member of the 1953 Australian side skippered by Lindsay Hassett, I played against a very young Colin Cowdrey. Colin was in the Oxford side that year and we played against them in the Parks in May. Neither of us set anything on fire: he made 3 and 5 and I was stumped by A.P. Walsh off David Fasken, the fast bowler, aiming a rather ambitious stroke outside the off stump. It was an interesting Oxford team. John Fellows-Smith was there and Alan Dowding of South Australia. Jumbo Jowett and Charles Williams made a very good 47 in the second innings of the game and later went on to write a biography of Bradman. Frank Chester was one of the umpires, and I still remember him whispering to me after an over I’d bowled, in the course of which I’d made a very, very loud and enthusiastic appeal for caught behind – Gil Langley was keeper. He whispered, “I think you’ll find that ball just flicked the top of Mr Cowdrey’s pad,” and he was absolutely right when I checked up.

However, I did have my first experience of what might be termed a reverse type of Preamble and Spirit of Cricket in that game. It is No. 5 in the Spirit of Cricket, and it’s to do with appealing and knowing a batsman is not out. But this was reversed, because Keith Miller bowled the first ball of an over to I.C. Marshall, the opening batsman, and I held a thick edge at gully, and immediately called out to Miller “No, no. No, it bounced.” That caught Miller’s attention. “What the hell do you think you’re up to?” he shouted. He said, “You got it three inches above the ground.” It also caught the attention of Mr Marshall, the batsman, who had the feeling that there could be something about to happen. Nugget had just been rolling over his arm, there was something running in the 3.45 at Kempton in which he had a certain interest, and now he flicked his hair back and he added several yards to his pace and he knocked Colin’s off-stump out of the ground. As we watched the new batsman come in, the rest of the team gathered around me, confirmed that they knew I was wet behind the ears, but they hadn’t thought I was stupid as well.

Perfectly legitimate in the Spirit of Cricket and in any Preamble is the endeavour to bowl out a batsman to dismiss him or to put a big dent in his confidence. After that Oxford match we came up against P.B.H. May in the game at Surrey, and those of you who were there, or have read about it, will know of the over Ray Lindwall bowled. Lindsay Hassett got him before we went out and he said, “This guy is dangerous. He made 100 against South Africa, his debut Test. We know he’s going to be a very good player and we don’t want him in the first Test.” Ray bowled him that over where not one ball hit Peter May’s bat. He played at everything and missed the whole six. That tactic was a success. It was perfectly legitimate. Peter got into the Trent Bridge Test, but struggled, and didn’t play again until the Oval Test Match where England regained The Ashes after such a long time.

In those days there were amateurs and professionals. Nothing like that these days: everyone is a cricket player. But late in that summer we played a game against the Gentlemen of England, a fixture that has disappeared, for obvious reasons. The significant part of it was that this was the match that gained Colin his place in Len Hutton’s side to go to Australia in 1954. It was an interesting team the Gentlemen put into the field. There was Reg Simpson, David Sheppard, Bill Edrich, Peter May, Colin Cowdrey at five and Charles Palmer at six, and Trevor Bailey, who had already become a hero because he and Willie Watson had saved the Lord’s Test Match by batting almost the whole of the last day. There was Wilf Wooller, Don Brennan, Robin Marlar and George Chesterton. Miller didn’t bowl in the first innings, but Lindwall, Bill Johnston and Ron Archer gave Colin a tremendous going over, for the same reason – that they wanted a dent put in his confidence. He made a brilliant 50. In the second innings there was Phil Boar, Lindwall, Miller, Bill Johnston, Ronnie Archer, and Colin made 57. It was another great knock – courageous too, because all those four generous fast bowlers, as fast bowlers often are, were kind enough to allow him full scope to practise his hook shot.

In May and Cowdrey, England had two of the finest examples of batsmanship and sportsmanship. When Colin came in to bat in Melbourne, on that tour that you just saw on the screen, in the third Test Match, England having won the second, it was 21 for 2. The pitch was damp and Miller was bowling superbly, and Colin played the best innings I ever saw from him – 102 out of 191. The pitch was damp on top, not as damp as when the Melbourne Cricket Ground groundsman, making his Test debut, illegally watered it on the rest day, the Sunday of the match. Keith Miller took 3 for 8, bowling almost unchanged throughout the first session, and Colin just caressed the ball away time and again past point and through the covers. It was simply magnificent. The only violence there, 47 years ago, was against the ball and against the close-in fielders, of whom I was one.

Now we are talking about a Preamble and the Spirit of Cricket, and a reminder in No. 6 that there is no place for any act of violence on the field of play. Although the Preamble and the Spirit of Cricket list seven areas where the players need to be very careful and need to do the right thing, it would be a mistake to consider that only the players should be listed. Fair and unfair play certainly are there, and the umpires need to take note of that. Administrators, though, are very much in the frame as well, and I think everyone should bear that in mind. Where it is said, quite correctly, that captains are responsible for the actions of their players, the wording might, in my view, include the word “leaders”, people who are chairmen of boards of control at the ICC, chief executive officers and all others in positions of authority in administration. It doesn’t go just for the players but for everyone concerned with the well-being of the game.

Bringing the game into disrepute – that is in No. 1 in the Spirit of Cricket – is an all-embracing caution, so there was no real need to mention the phrase “match-fixing” in that. Match-fixing is the worst and most devastating thing I have seen in all my time in the game. Like many others, I simply found it impossible to believe that there were people out there deliberately playing in such a way that a game could be lost. The time I watched Don Bradman’s side play at the SCG in 1940 against Stan McCabe’s team, a New South Wales side, I spent just about every waking moment of every day trying to work out how to win a match. It is beyond my comprehension that there are bastards out there who spend most of their time trying to work out ways to lose one. Whether we are able to say within a couple of years that this matter has been solved is something only the future will tell us, but I would suggest that we assume nothing in the match-fixing situation at the moment.

The Preamble and the Spirit of Cricket rightly allow for hard and fair play. Test cricket and competitions like the Sheffield Shield, as it was known when I played – it has a different name now, but it is the same type of competition – are played within the Laws and within the Spirit of the Game. That doesn’t mean everyone has to be namby-pamby about what they do out on the field, but it brings in the captains, responsible for the actions of the players, and it tries to ensure that the play is within the Spirit of the Game as well as within the Laws.

What we do need to realise, I believe, is that we live in a world quite different from what we saw on the screen a few minutes ago, where cushions could be hired for sixpence a time and hats were the normal wear to the ground. England was on rationing cards for food and clothes, but the great joy at that time was that life was good because people were free. It is true, as Colin said, that Fred Trueman, one of the greatest bowlers I have ever seen, made his debut against the Australians at The Oval in 1953. He had played against India before, but this was his Ashes debut. It is also true, as Colin said in that chat with Mark Nicholas, that Fred never bowled a bad ball in his life. Equally true that when a batsman once complimented Fred on the one that pitched leg and took the top of the off-bail, Fred put an arm around his shoulders and then, in very friendly fashion, said, “Aye, but it was wasted on thee.” I suppose, these days, television would pick up the arm round the shoulders and the chat, and there might be conjecture as to whether or not that was sledging. It might make headlines in the papers the next day. In the same way in 1961, when Fred took 11 for 88 against the Australians at Headingley and they beat us easily, he came in with in a beer in his hand – he’d knocked me over for a pair. He put his arm round my shoulder, the same as he had with that other young player, and he said to me, “Bad luck. It was a beauty. It would have knocked over even a good batsman.”

There has always been sledging in various forms. It doesn’t matter which era you might be in. It’s always been a tough game, cricket, and the better for it too. It’s been hard fought with some odd bedfellows of desperation and success and failure. There has always been needle on the field. It is not just the prerogative of the modern-day player that that should be so. Matches in Australia between New South Wales and Victoria were played with all the intensity of a Test Match and much more back-chat. Green pitches in Sydney helped fast bowlers, although there has always been turn there, and a group of Lindwall, Miller, Tom Brooks, Alan Walker and Alan Davidson from New South Wales, and Bill Johnston, Sam Oxton, Harry Lambert and Strawberry Parr always ensured a fiery encounter in the Shield games – fiery but fair. With Miller flat on his back dodging a bouncer and Ian Johnson at mid-off shouting, “Give him another one, Strawb,” you knew that a few beers at the end of the day were likely to be spiced with some lively conversation.

The big difference is television. Nowadays people in their living-room can see exactly what’s happening. It’s worth remembering that before the mid-1970s no one had ever seen a toss on the ground. People were suddenly able to see the toss with the two captains and the coin going up, and television suddenly started to change the way everything was seen. I think television’s great, because I’m part of it and have been since 1963, when Fred Trueman, again, took 11 wickets in a Test here on this ground, a wonderful performance against the West Indians, and there were magnificent innings played in that game by Kanhai and Butcher, Dexter, Barrington and Close, and then, in the end, Cowdrey, who came out with a broken arm and saw out the last over. What a way to start your television career!

Television brings everything to life. It might be in the living-room or the bedroom, if that’s where you watch your cricket matches. If it happens on the field, you can be pretty sure that you’ll see it on your screen. Quite different from, say, 1951-52, when I played in a Sheffield Shield match in Sydney. It was a game where New South Wales were hosting the South Australians, skippered by Phil Ridings. It was a green pitch and the air was blue for much of the time, with batsmen complaining and bowlers bitching away that the field had let them down. It was quite a match, made more so when Alan Walker, the New South Wales fast bowler, laid out Bruce Bowley, the South Australian opening batsman, and he was carted off the field and taken to hospital, where he had to stay overnight. They weren’t too sure what was going to happen to him.

Pancho Ridings never took any prisoners on the field. He was a magnificent player. He later became chairman of the Australian Selection Committee and also chairman of the Australian Cricket Board. He never took a prisoner on the field. He made a wonderful 103 in the second innings of that match, out of 177, and he was 50 not out when a wicket fell and Bruce Bowley wandered out on to the field, head still swathed in bandages but padded up, because he’d checked himself out of the hospital. The first two balls he received from Alan Walker were bouncers, and he went to earth for both of them. Now, Pancho Ridings quietly meandered down the pitch and somehow found himself chest to chest with Wacky Walker as he was striding back. Wacky couldn’t go anywhere, and Pancho looked just past Wacky’s left ear and he said very quietly to him that if by some freak of mischance he happened to hit Bowley, Pancho would make a point of chasing him round the Sydney Cricket Ground and, having placed his bat in Wacky’s mouth, he would pull it out through an area only to be described in this refined company as his nether regions. There was no television. Next day in the Sydney Morning Herald that fine writer, T.L. Goodman, said that late in the day there appeared to be a minor altercation between P.L. Ridings, the South Australian captain, and A.K. Walker, the New South Wales fast bowler. Umpire H.R. Elfenston quickly solved any problems.

There were plenty more episodes lost because television didn’t exist in those days, or the close-up television that we have now. Nothing was recorded, but you can take it from me that although we might all have looked angels on that screen there, and some of us still do, it wasn’t always so. I played in South Africa in 1957-8 and there were two mad fast bowlers in the opposition – Neil Adcock and Peter Heine. When I say “mad”, not a sandwich short of a picnic, but just mad when they got the ball in their hands. I made 100 in the Test there and half of it was spent playing hook shots, and the other half, because Heine would keep on running down the pitch – we are wondering and worrying about bowlers and fielders rushing at the umpire these days – he was rushing at the batsmen after he had delivered the ball. I found very quickly that the thing to do was to turn your back on him, so that he’s coming at you there. You turn your back, and in the end we were circling around – unfortunately there was no television – and doing a pas de deux out in the centre every ball he bowled.

None of those things are recorded, and I mention them just to underline the fact that anything you might think of to do with modern-day cricket that is a bit over the top has all happened before, but it’s never been recorded, and I think more’s the pity.

One thing you definitely need is a good sense of humour. Colin was always self-deprecating with his humour and wonderfully understated. You could just feel, in that interview he did with Mark Nicholas, his humour and his love of the game coming through. In 1974-75 they called him to go to Australia, 20 years after he was first there with Len Hutton’s side, and he was aged 42. I was in England covering the Pakistan and India tour in 1974 and everyone wanted to know what was going to happen. Ray Illingworth had been captain in 1972, the series had been drawn, the Australians had Lillee, and unfortunately he was having fitness problems. Everyone wanted to know – in the media box, walking along the street – “How’s Lillee?” Unfortunately, he was in a plaster cast from his hip to his shoulder, because his back had gone in the West Indies tour, and everyone reckoned he had no chance of playing again. When they weren’t asking about Lillee, they were asking about the surfy Jeff Thomson, who used to appear at the Bankstown Oval, sometimes to bowl the first over, sometimes with his surfboard and a blonde on an arm, and he was said to be a bit quickish but a bit wild. I could tell them a bit about that, because I saw him play his first rep match for New South Wales Colts against Queensland Colts. Then I saw him play his first Test against Pakistan and he got none for 113. When I said, “He’s a pretty good bowler and he’s pretty quick,” everyone said, “That’s typical Aussie bluster.” He was quick. My brother played against him. My brother played for Australia. He was quite a good player, and Tommo bowled him a bouncer at Bankstown Oval and the ball bounced and smashed into the sightscreen on the first bounce. So he was quick, even if they were very short boundaries on Steve Waugh’s home ground 30 years ago. Everyone thought I was having them on, but when three batsmen were injured in that first Test Match up in Brisbane at the Gabba, on a pitch prepared by the Brisbane lord mayor, Clem Jones, the SOS went out for Colin. In the meantime David Lloyd, the Lancashire opening batsmen, who was doing service on that tour, had announced at an MCC team meeting that he didn’t think Thomson was all that quick and that he could play him with his appendage, which he proceeded to do.

There was no great amount of conversation out in the centre when Colin got out there, and Jeffrey Robert was steaming in from the Causeway end with the Fremantle doctor gusting behind him, and he did a Bankstown. He bowled a bouncer and the ball smashed into the sightscreen. As he came back, as fast bowlers will do – not all of them are thorough gentlemen – Colin was the non-striker, and Jeffrey Robert gave him very severe eye contact – like that, and Colin looked back and said, “Good morning, my name’s Cowdrey.” I think that’s class, and it shows a good sense of humour as well.

A question: are we being overtaken by technology? That is not in the Preamble and it’s not in the Spirit of Cricket, but it is pertinent at the moment. I am an unashamed lover of technology. Anything that will be good for the viewer and good for the game are the two requirements: you can’t necessarily have one without the other. But I was happy that Sunil Gavaskar’s committee decided to hold a watching brief on more technology just a month or so ago, until it is firmly established that there are distinct benefits to be gained and that the technology is 100% correct. It is one of those things I see no need to rush, even if more than 20,000 no balls have been called in Test Matches since they brought in that front foot law 30 years ago.

One thing that does worry me now, though, is the question of umpires and the fact that we seem to be getting into a situation where you could have an umpire from any country who will never ever stand in a Test Match in his own country. He might, if he is on a very short list, stand in a limited overs international, but, as I read what they’re doing, this guy will never ever have the honour and the pleasure of standing in a Test Match in his own country, and that is because of the push for what they laughingly call “neutral umpires”. I’m not sure whether that’s exactly what we want. It isn’t anything to do with the Preamble or the Spirit of Cricket, but I think it’s worth thinking about that it may not be, in the end, precisely what it was meant to be.

There is nothing in the Spirit of Cricket brochures, pamphlets and posters about walking or not walking, but in a sense it comes into it. I was always brought up by my father, who was a good cricketer and a good coach, that when an appeal was made and I was out in the centre batting, I was to do only one thing – look straight at the umpire and, whatever the umpire said, I was to obey. If he says “Go” and I’ve nicked it on the pad, I go, and, “Under no circumstance ever let me see you infer that the umpire might have made a mistake.” That was the way I was brought up in Australia. It wasn’t the English way, where walking was commonplace. However, it was the way we were brought up. 

When I brought the side over in 1961 we had a meeting on the ship and we decided lots of things, one of which was that we would walk. This went against the grain for a number of people, but, OK, we’d give it a go. We got down to Sussex and Ian Thomson got me in the first innings, caught round the corner for nought. When I went out when we were chasing a win in the second innings, Ronnie Bell, the left-arm spinner was on. I wasn’t off the mark, so I’m sitting on a pair, and he lands the ball on the footmarks and I went for a drive. Alan Oakman dived to his left and caught the ball, and there were shouts and yells. I’d taken two paces towards the pavilion before I thought, “I didn’t hit that,” and there was a momentary hesitation, and then I had to keep going. The pavilion’s side on, as you know, at Hove, and the game was over in another 10-12 minutes. It finished up as a draw. When I was having a beer with Oaky at the bar, and one or two of the others as well, they all said, “Why did you do that? You didn’t get anywhere near it.” So I explained to them exactly why I’d done it and they fell about laughing, but no one could explain to me why they’d appealed, and it’s always been one of the things in my mind about walking, that the appeal in a situation like that could pose problems, and I reckon that in these modern times where you have so much technology, it’s going to remain a contentious business, even if it’s not in the Preamble or the Spirit of Cricket.

Right at the top of my list in the Spirit of Cricket is the situation revolving around No. 5, and that is appealing, rushing at the umpire, and the fielding side not paying any attention to the umpire if they’ve asked for a catch behind or if something might be a bit contentious. They just rush to where all their players are and they’re congratulating one another, and suddenly there is the realisation that the umpire hasn’t said anything and they turn around and everyone in the world – millions – know that the probability is that the umpire’s made a mistake, and I hope that that is one aspect of the Spirit of Cricket that is very forcibly brought home. That is the part that disturbs me most and the thing that I would like to see cut out of the modern game.

One of the great things about this modern era is that the game is being globalised. The ICC tournament in Canada is just about to conclude, with the Netherlands beating Namibia today in the most extraordinary game and the other matches to see who goes into the 2003 World Cup to be played out over the next 48 hours. I am connected with cricket in France in a very small way and although the French team didn’t get into the finals of that Toronto tournament – they were knocked out earlier – yesterday their under-17 team won the European under-17 championships in Corfu. Things like that for the associate nations and affiliate nations do a great amount of good, and the ICC is to be congratulated for their efforts at globalisation and taking the game to every possible person.

In those 119 years I mentioned earlier there have been captains who have left a legacy, and a great legacy, and that’s the way it should be. One thing of which you can be certain is that it is quite possible to have very, very hard and very, very fair games of cricket and the captains, as we know, are responsible for the actions of their players. You have people like Steve Waugh and Nasser Hussain in charge, and now Michael Atherton, and you have Jimmy Adams, who is the first recipient of the Spirit of Cricket Award. There are none better than those men, and Steve Waugh is captaining a wonderful Australian side at the moment.

I suppose the fact that we need a preamble and a statement on the Spirit of Cricket is an indication that not everything in the game is exactly as it should be – or hasn’t been for the last ten years or so. Many years ago that great playwright T.S. Eliot in “The Hollow Men” penned five lines which for me illustrate what’s been happening in cricket over the past ten years – lots of great things – but he said:

“Between the idea
and the reality
between the motion
and the act
falls the Shadow.”

The idea and the reality – they’re the Spirit of Cricket – were brought to fruition by people like A.R. Lewis and Ted Dexter, the latter working very closely with Colin Cowdrey. Between that motion and the act, though, has fallen the shadow where things have happened that have not been good. Fortunately, tonight is a reminder that older people and older players have the opportunity to applaud all the good things done by the modern-day players – their ability to play outstanding attacking cricket, their flair and inspiration and innovation; and it’s a reminder also, in a quiet way, to the modern-day players that good things have happened before, that in every era there have always been cricketers who have served the game well and have loved it, and have wanted to see it flourish.

MCC has given all of us cause to stop for a moment and the opportunity to consider the Spirit of Cricket and to reflect that this remains a marvellous game and that it is far too good a game to be under any sort of threat.

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