On April 10th 2015 the Australian newspaper headlines screamed that Australian Cricket great Richie Benaud was dead at age 84. He was the first cricketer to reach a Test double of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets and it is said by many that after Don Bradman no Australian cricket player is more famous than Richie Benaud.
Cricket is a game played between two teams of eleven players each. To win one team needs to score more runs than the other. Depending on the runs scored and the wickets taken a test cricket can be played over 5 days. In every cricket game there are two sides; one out in the field and one in. Each man that’s in the side that’s in goes out, and when he’s out he comes in and the next man goes in until he’s out. When they are all out, the side that’s out comes in and the side that’s been in goes out and tries to get those coming in, out. Sometimes you get men still in and not out. When a man goes out to go in, the men who are out try to get him out, and when he is out he goes in and the next man in goes out and goes in. There are two men called umpires who stay all out all the time and they decide when the men who are in are out. When both sides have been in and all the men have been out, and both sides have been out twice after all the men have been in, including those who are not out, that is the end of the game!
Benaud blended deft leg spin bowling with artful batting prowess. He became Australia’s Test captain in 1958 and led the team until 1964. It must have been the 1956 ashes series in England, before Benaud was captain that I remember. The five tests were played June through August in a tepid English summer but a typical dank, chilly, Melbourne winter. On foggy winter nights, cocooned in woolen blankets at Peel Street, with the radio down low I was put to sleep by the erudite and snobbish descriptions of play and the mournful fog horns warning cargo ships of the close foreshore as they navigated the Yarra estuary.
England retained the Ashes winning two tests. Australia won one test and two were drawn. Jim Laker for England captured 19 wickets: 10 in the second innings of the 4th test at Old Trafford Manchester.
Benaud bowled 47 overs: 17 of those maidens and took 2 wickets for 123 runs.
1956 was a big sporting year for me: I remember a summer afternoon in November sitting in the Melbourne Cricket Ground (MCG) watching track and field Olympic events. The 1956 Summer Olympics were the catalyst for the start of commercial television in Australia. The Olympics were broadcast as a test transmission. And that summer there was also the pick-up cricket games on the strand with Andrew Lambrainew, Ray Cowmeadow, Alwyn Robertson, my brother Peter, and sometimes Froggie Norton and Butch: in bowling we tried to master the googly, yorker, full toss, and leg cutter and when batting the silky skills of Bradman, Harvey, and Miller.
It was also around that time when I played in my only cricket game. One afternoon a week I would stay back after school for cricket practice. Alan Self and Ray Cowmeadow were always the captains of the 2 teams that were formed for the practice: Alan for his fast bowling prowess and Ray for his artful batting. I was never a captains pick and ended up with a couple of the other leftovers who were sent out to field the ball when either team batted. I never got to touch the ball or bat during practice but I often got to collect and carry in the wickets.
The historic day of my first and only cricket match was when North Williamstown Primary School was to play some other primary school. As well as the firsts team they had to field a seconds cricket team to play the leftovers from the other school. We played the game at what was left of the old historic Williamstown Racecourse.
I remember going into bat: the wind was blowing in from the nearby bay and the blue sky was filled with puffy white clouds. I know I didn’t take stance or center for the crease but just hit my shoe with the bat a few times. I do remember that we were not padded up. I don’t remember what ball it was and I don’t remember what shot I tried to play but runs were scored. I made a few more runs and was not out when the days play ended.
On that day I became the world’s greatest cricketer, a sporting legend, but still Alan Self and Ray Cowmeadow never picked me for one of the practice teams and every practice I went out to field the ball that never came to me. But deep down I knew that I was a cricket prodigy.
The grassy area on the Strand where we played end to end football, built bonfires an, pit ourselves in pick-up cricket games with Andrew, Ray Cowmeadow, Alwyn, Peter, and sometimes Froggie Norton and Butch is now a baseball field reserve.
Australia is the current 2015 Cricket World Cup Champions. Teams from England, South Africa, India, Australia, Sri Lanka, Pakistan, West Indies, Bangladesh, New Zealand, Zimbabwe, Ireland, Afghanistan, Scotland, and United Arab Emirates played 49 matches of one day international cricket in 14 different venues to decide the World Cup. Baseball World Series is a seven game playoff between the American League and National League pennant winners.
I suppose it makes sense for a baseball field reserve to be on the Strand.
In July 2015 Australia ventures to England defend the ashes after humiliating England in Australia winning five 5 tests to none. There are no more Jim Lakers in England but there is Mitch Johnson for Australia.
I still check the scores when ever Australia is playing in a test series.
“The slow-motion replay doesn’t show how fast the ball was really traveling.” Richie Benaud (1930-2015)