How Benaud helped save cricket

At tea on the last day of the tied Test in December 1960, Richie Benaud and Alan Davidson were sitting with their pads on outside the dressing room at the Gabba with the future of the match in their hands.

In some ways, so was the future of Test cricket.

The two allrounders were in the middle of an extraordinary partnership after Australia had slumped to 6-92 in pursuit of 233 against the West Indies.

Don Bradman walked up and asked Benaud what his intentions were.

“We’re going for the win, of course,” the Australian captain replied.

“Excellent,” said Bradman, a selector and chairman of the Australian board.

Benaud’s attitude was more than mere bravado.

Batting out time for a draw might have been the prudent course of action, but this was a series unlike any that had preceded it.

Test cricket had ossified in the 1950s through stodgy batting and negative tactics, and the game was in danger of dying.

Before the 1960-61 series, Bradman took Benaud aside and urged him to do what he could to inject some life and spirit into the game.

For Benaud, by nature an attacking player and captain, this was all the encouragement he needed.

A month earlier, he had walked onto the tarmac at Kingsford-Smith airport to greet the arriving captain Frank Worrell, the first black man appointed as full-time West Indies captain.

There and then, they agreed to play bright, attacking cricket throughout the summer, and what resulted is considered perhaps the most exciting Test series to be played. It might also be the most important.

From a seemingly hopeless position at the Gabba, Benaud and Davidson took Australia to the brink of victory.

“When we were walking off for tea, Richie said to me: ‘We’ve got a chance of winning this’,” Davidson recalled on Friday.

For the sake of the game, it was better that they didn’t.

Australia lost the last three wickets in the final over and the match was a tie – the first in Test history.

Davidson, 85, has no doubt the way Benaud and Worrell played the game changed the course of cricket.

“It opened the world for cricket,” Davidson said.

“There were two captains who had similar thoughts. They wanted the game to be played in the right spirit, but it was very competitive,” he told AAP.

“There was never any animosity towards anyone.

“After the match finished, we all sat in the dining room – Australian player, West Indies player, Australian player and so on – like we were old friends, even though this was the first Test match we played.”

Davidson, who first played against Benaud when they were schoolboys, said he was privileged to play under such a captain.

“It was a great thing for me. Richie believed in taking the initiative and keeping it, which was the way I wanted to play myself.

“He inspired people to take up the challenge themselves and not to be afraid of failing.”

Current Test captain Michael Clarke credits Benaud with creating the winning culture that led to Australia becoming the most dominant force in world cricket.

“He loved winning,” Clarke told the Nine Network.

“He helped the Australian team have the attitude where they wanted to win. He played the game the right way.

“He was great player and a great captain, a wonderful leader of men”.

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