Martin Smith column: The Legend that was Richie Benaud

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It was a encounter so fleeting it hardly registered at all, until the man spoke.

“Excuse me son,” was all he said. Three words from a man of very few, three words spoken in THAT voice. A voice that conjured up all the cricketing summers of youth.

It was in the Albany Hotel in Nottingham in June 1973 and I was walking into the bar with a seriously unimpressed girlfriend. We were in the city on a night out and saw the New Zealand cricket team getting off their bus at the hotel after a day’s play at Trent Bridge. In a star-struck, big-kid way I wanted to go in and have a drink where the cricketers were milling around.

She rolled her eyes and went along with it and as we walked in I stopped to make sure she was through the revolving doors and bumped in to someone as I turned. Richie Benaud.

My first reaction was to say sorry and stifle a giggle. Partly in embarrassment, partly because I couldn’t believe the voice was as perfectly Australian, so absolutely unmistakably Richie Benaud as it was in commentary and because it instantly brought back so many brilliant memories.

The self commentaries of our six-a-side cricket games on the rec always delivered in the style of Benaud, the voice on the before-school, black and white TV Ashes coverage from Australia – the only thing that would get us out of bed before we had to.

The exclamations: ‘Bowled him!’, ‘He’s got him!’, ‘That’s out!’ and the unspoken wisdom of those endless Benaudian silences. Silences so long your dad had you checking to see if the telly had gone on the blink.

In losing Richie Benaud we have lost the last of the great commentators of that age along with Kenneth Wolstenholme, David Coleman, Brian Moore, Eddie Waring, Dan Maskell and others.

When we mourn someone we mourn for a part of our own lives that we can never get back. So it is with Richie Benaud and his understated brilliance.

I don’t remember the name of the girl I was with that night or any detail of the Test match I had actually been at the day before and someone saying: “Excuse me son,” in a bar wouldn’t normally stay in the memory.

But when a man like Richie Benaud says it, you don’t forget. And yes, of course she dumped me.