Richie Benaud was my hero. Hour upon hour was spent modelling my bowling style on his. I wanted to bowl leg spin just like him. And before long I was proud of the fact that I could let a good leggy rip justifying my opinion of myself that greatness was just around the corner. Many a time I rattled the stumps or beat the bat of hapless family members and friends in the backyard as I mesmerised them with my spin. I was going to be as good as Richie Benaud. My dream was to follow in his footsteps and play Test Cricket for Australia. Many dreams saw me wrecking the Poms at Lords, taking “five for” a couple of times on a turning track then smacking a delightful drive off the front foot through through the covers to score the winning runs. The crowd would cheer the conquering hero! It was all there waiting for me.
I loved listening to the cricket on the radio at night during an Ashes tours of England during the late 50’s and early 60’s. Dad would unscrew the globe from the light on the ceiling in the sleepout and plug the wireless in. For some reason the wireless had a plug that could only be plugged into a light socket. It was a treat to be allowed the radio to myself and to be up well past my bedtime; sometimes dad would lie with me on the bed and we listened to the commentary together. A real bonding time for father and son.
That magical velvet voice of John Arlott with his superb turn of phrase and descriptions and use of all those wonderfully typical English words and names entranced me as I laid in my bed listening to the broadcast. Dad at times tried to explain to me, in his way, the meaning of some of the enthralling commentary wafting out from the radio but it didn’t matter if dad mucked it up; it was the sound of Arlott’s voice that fascinated me . We loved our cricket.
During this time Dad had become friendly with John Beckwith the former Melbourne captain and premiership player when he moved to Colac to coach the local footy team. So when dad told me we were going to the cricket at the MCG with Becky to watch Victoria and NSW play I couldn’t contain myself, I was over the moon. At last I was going to see my hero, Richie Benaud, in the flesh, and with a little bit of luck I was going to meet him.
Becky had organised with the administration of the MCC for me to be at the players gate as they came off the ground at the end of the day. I was a nervous wreck all day wondering what I would say to Benaud. In the end I decided the best thing to do would be to just ask him for his autograph.
So there I was, standing at the players gate, autograph book and pen in hand in awe as state and test cricketers passed me by. I had died and gone to heaven! And then at last, there he was , the great man,Richie Benaud approaching me. He looked enormous to a small boy. My hero, at last.
“Can I have your autograph please?” I asked in a nervous and wavering but polite voice as I proffered my book towards him.
Then, without a word, my world crashed down, there was not even an acknowledgement from him, just an arm firmly moving me aside so he did not have to change his stride to pass through the gate.
I was completely and utterly devastated. My hero had ignored me. Me, his biggest fan. Didn’t he know or appreciate what this must mean to a young boy. My hero had crushed me.
And then I cried.
Thank goodness for dad. He made everything better for me. On the way home he bought me my first ever hamburger, one with real meat, grilled onion, beetroot, tomato, lettuce with sauce served on a toasted roll. I still remember the taste vividly. And to top it all off, a strawberry milkshake with extra malt eventually offered me some consolation for my devastation.
Well, Bobby Simpson soon replaced him in the hero stakes.
And, to this day, whenever I see Richie Benaud I’m reminded not of a hero but of my dad, a hamburger and a milkshake.