Cricket loses one of its most eloquent voices

WIZARD OF OZ: Former Australia captain and cricket commentator Richie Benaud
WIZARD OF OZ: Former Australia captain and cricket commentator Richie Benaud

Australia lost one of its finest players, and cricket one of its most eloquent voices, with the death of Richie Benaud.

Benaud also played a crucial role in spurring on racial transformation in SA cricket.

Before the tour to SA in 1956-1957, Benaud had seldom starred for Australia.

But, on that tour he took 106 wickets and scored 817 runs, including four centuries, two of them in Test matches.

Said former SA captain Ali Bacher yesterday: “That tour made him and it was the hard work he put in behind the scenes that made him so successful.”

Bacher, then 15 years old, remembered watching Benaud bowl at a piece of cardboard “for hours after the rest of the team had finished training”.

During Benaud’s captaincy, Australia did not lose a single series, and became the dominant team in world cricket.

Benaud also represented International Cavaliers teams in South Africa, Zimbabwe (when it was still called Rhodesia) Kenya and India during the early 1960s.

During that time, all of South Africa’s teams were racially segregated by law.

He returned to the country in 1976 as the manager of the International Wanderers, another composite team that flouted the mounting international boycott against apartheid sport.

But Benaud took the opportunity to strike a small but notable blow for deracialised sport in SA.

Bacher said: “He insisted that every team they played against had to be mixed.

“Surprisingly, the SA government of the day agreed.”

Benaud called the official end to apartheid sport in the 1980s “the best news I have had in years”.

When initial efforts were made to grow the game in black communities, said Bacher, Benaud made “an unprompted and very generous donation” to the development programme.

-Telford Vice

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