Saturday, 11 April 2015

Richie Benaud was

a gentleman. I know because I met him once.
I have to confess here that I have, apart from a faint interest in cricket, no interest whatsoever in sport. I look on it as a form of internal (national) and external (international) warfare.
But cricket was something I was hurled into with some force.
I met Richie Benaud one rather warm afternoon on the "cricket ground" of the Oakbank racecourse. He had come up, along with other cricketing greats to play "cricket".
It was, I believe, Sir Donald Bradman who initially set up the annual visit to what was then called "The Crippled Children's Camp" run by the Girl Guides' Association. This was a ten day camp under canvas on the Oakbank Racecourse grounds. We used the kitchen facilities and the changing room belonging to the jockeys but we also pitched tents and, somehow, managed to look after sixty children - some with very severe disabilities indeed.
What we did then nobody would do now. There would be all sorts of rules and regulations and insurance and public liability and....well I am sure you understand. But we set off blissfully unaware of those things. We worked hard. One of my few teen year friends is another girl from those camping days and we will still say "Remember when..."
And the Australian cricket team would come if the game coincided with our stay there. The entire team would arrive. They would scatter themselves among the children, eat lunch with them and then play "cricket" for "the Ashes" - which of course the children always "won". 
As someone with a disability I would cease being a Guide for the afternoon and become "one of the kids" so that I could bowl for the children who could not hold a cricket ball at all.  I still feel bewildered by the fact that I should have bowled a ball (often wide of the mark) to cricketing greats like the Chappell brothers, Lillee and Marsh. If I were to meet any of them now and remind them they would probably join me in roars of laughter at my attempts to throw any sort of ball. But, we pretended to be earnest and serious for a short while and the youngest children went off with shining eyes and the biggest of grins.
We played on rough ground and a pitch that must have left the real cricketers in despair but they were cheerful about it. Looking back I find their willingness to be there and the way they mixed and communicated with children who would never play cricket was remarkable. No doubt it helped that the children adored them. At the school where many of them came from cricket was rated far higher than football.
And Richie Benaud came once. He had retired by then but, like Donald Bradman - a regular attender, he joined in the spirit of things and "played" a game. 
I wonder now what he and those other cricketers really thought. Was it a chore to be endured? Did they resent giving up a day? Did they cringe at our efforts? If  they did feel that way they never showed it. 
I remember Richie Benaud shaking my hand and that of the "team captain" and thanking us for the game - as if he meant it. Perhaps he did. It would be in keeping with the nature of a man who was a gentleman. 


Helen Devries said...

That's a lovely memory of a man who seemed to be genuinely nice.

catdownunder said...

I think he was - his family have just turned down a state funeral for him. I suspect he didn't want it