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Well played Mr Benaud. We need more public figures like you

By Mal Fletcher - posted Saturday, 11 April 2015

If imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, the late Australian cricket champion and commentator Richie Benaud must have been one of the most flattered men in the sporting world.

Scores of Benaud imitators would turn up at cricket matches wearing Richie wigs and waving faux microphones, even well after his retirement as a pundit.

Perhaps unusually for a sportsperson, his post-athletic career provides some important cues for people in every corner of public life - including politicos vying for election. He came to personify a type of individual that seems at times to be fast disappearing from the public stage.


A celebrated Test captain in his own era, Benaud later became the voice of Australian summers – and, along with Christopher Martin-Jenkins and Brian Johnson, a great many English summers too.

Like Don Bradman before him - another antipodean warmly embraced by the English cousins - Benaud was always a gentleman who was concerned with his bearing as well as his words.

Whatever his private views on a range of issues, he remained respectful of his audience, his colleagues and even those with whom he might strongly disagree.

Though undoubtedly passionate about his subject, he was not given to letting his personal feelings boil over, even when faced with the inevitable controversies that occur within any high-profile international sport. He certainly did not revert to name-calling, trashing the reputations of others, or publicly questioning their motivations.

In the 1970s, while working for arch-iconoclast Kerry Packer, Richie Benaud was part of the World Series Cricket revolution. This arguably brought cricket kicking and screaming into the world of quality TV broadcasting and better remuneration for players.

Benaud was obviously a moderniser. He welcomed new forms of cricket, like the limited-overs format launched under WSC.


At the time, sniffy critics dubbed it ‘pyjama cricket’, because of its lurid uniforms and the fact that it was played at night, under lights. Yet Benaud could see a bright future – no pun intended – in terms of audience reach and encouraging youngsters to take up cricket.

As a teenager watching these WSC games, on TV and live in Melbourne, I can attest to the fact that something here caught the public’s imagination. Public support for the recent World Cup demonstrated that the impact has not been lost on a succeeding generation.

Yet even as the cricketing establishment gradually began to change some of its structures and embrace different formats, Benaud maintained a resolute respect for the heritage and history behind his sport.

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This article was first published on 2020PLUS.

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About the Author

Mal Fletcher is a media social futurist and commentator, keynote speaker, author, business leadership consultant and broadcaster currently based in London. He holds joint Australian and British citizenship.

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