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Last Updated: Thursday, 1 September 2005, 15:36 GMT 16:36 UK
Richie's final delivery
By Jamie Lillywhite

Richie Benaud
The great man at the microphone

The doyen of cricket commentators, Richie Benaud, will pick up his microphone for the last time in England during the final Ashes Test at The Oval.

Many will not realise the significance of this until the first Test of next summer dawns and there are suddenly no wry observations in the distinctive Australian accent that cricket fans from across the world have grown up savouring.

Almost all those fans will have a Richie Benaud impression in their repertoire, or versions of impressions by Billy Birmingham or Rory Bremner. Some sound more like Dame Edna Everage - but everyone has a go.

Like Frank Spencer of yester-year, Richie is the one they all imitate, yet like his commentaries, he has endured.

Following an illustrious playing career as an inventive leg-spinner which yielded 248 Test wickets and 2,201 runs from 63 Tests, he moved seamlessly into the commentary box.

He arrived at the BBC and went on a training course, where the instructors highlighted Henry Longhurst, Dan Maskell and Peter O'Sullevan as broadcasters to emulate.

I've never been so excited about a series from a commentary point of view
Richie Benaud

"They took me down to Newbury for the autumn meeting to trail round Peter O'Sullevan and it was the best training I could possibly have. He was the most organised man I've ever seen on television," Benaud, 74, told BBC Radio Five Live.

"He prepared for before the first race, so that when the race was about to start he knew everything about what was going to happen."

Now, after 42 years commentating in England, Benaud is to bow out.

"People have been kind enough to say 'it's a pity you're finishing we really enjoy what you do' but I've had a lot of fun and enjoyed every minute of it," he said.

None more so the current Ashes battle, which has captivated the country in recent weeks.

"I've never been so excited about a series from a commentary point of view," he enthused. "The last two years have been the best cricket I've ever seen."

A playing adversary who became a long-term colleague in the BBC box is former England captain Raymond Illingworth, who is full of praise for Benaud's presentational style.

"He is a very good broadcaster who doesn't say too much and lets the people decide for themselves when they're watching," he told BBC Sport.

"What remarks he does make are usually to the point - and he doesn't miss too many points."

RICHIE-ISMS
Richie Benaud
Don't bother looking for that let alone chasing it

I suppose it's only logical, if you need 24 to save the follow-on why wouldn't you get it in four hits?

Footwork's a bit of a mess, and so are the stumps

Illingworth joined an experienced BBC line-up featuring Benaud and Jim Laker, fronted by Peter West, and recalls the welcome he received.

"When I started he was the one who helped me more than anyone else," he said.

"Lots of little things he told you were very helpful. It was a really good set-up, everyone got on extremely well with each other and it was a very pleasant environment to work in."

Although good friends for a number of years, the two cricketing heavyweights did not spend much time socialising away from the commentary box.

"Richie doesn't do a great deal of that because he's always working in the evening," Illingworth explains.

"Occasionally I would have a meal with him at night and a bottle of wine but he really kept himself to himself because he was always doing a lot of writing at night."

Another retired friend of the veteran broadcaster is legendary umpire Dickie Bird, who has no doubts about Benaud's commentary skills.

"He is easily the best, I put him along with Henry Longhurst in golf and Harry Carpenter in boxing. It's a gift, he will be sadly missed, he's a legend," Bird reflected.

"He is a very good friend of mine, he was a great captain so he knew the game but he's a good journalist as well. They'll never replace Richie Benaud."

Bird, who says he always refers to Richie as "skipper" whenever they meet, will make a point of seeing his old friend at The Oval.

"I'll go up to the commentary box to say my farewells and wish him every happiness."

The Benaud machine will continue to whir in other ways, with his ninth book on cricket due for release in the autumn. And he will remain at the head of Channel Nine's cricket coverage in Australia.

But he opposes non-free-to-air coverage and immediately discounted a switch to Sky, which will have live coverage of home England Tests from 2006.

His many legions of fans will have to contend themselves with gems from the archives, a veritable Benaud jukebox, to be recounted in their best Richie voice... such as the time when the West Indian fielders were finding the going difficult in 2004.

"There are two men out there," he said, as the ball was clipped away to fine-leg, before dribbling through the two West Indians and going over the ropes for four.

With immaculate timing, he then added: "Or maybe... one and a half."




WATCH AND LISTEN
Interview: Cricket commentator Richie Beanaud


Feature: Peers praise retiring Benaud



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