17 Jan Benaud honoured by bronze statue

Richie Benaud became the first of ten Australian sporting greats to have sculptures of themselves unveiled at the SCG. Benaud was at the informal but intimate gathering behind the Ladies Stand and the audience included the Invincibles Arthur Morris and Neil Harvey and the former Australia captains Steve Waugh and Ian Craig.

“The first thing I want to say is that I like it,” Benaud said. In the sculpture a relaxed Benaud, the bowler, is calling for a change in the field and his shirt has a couple of buttons undone in the tradition of the day.

Dressed in a blue jacket, grey pants with a pink shirt and mauve tie, Benaud was his usual effusive self, throwing out nuggets of information that have helped make him such an endearing personality. “I don’t how they did it, but the positioning of the sculpture could hardly be better,” he said. “I would think that if they went back to people I played with, people who knew me well, that is the spot that I used to park the car. It’s a very nice gesture.”

Benaud made his debut for New South Wales in 1948 and recalled the cherished moment. “I love this ground for a lot of reasons, but the main one is I started and finished my career here,” he said. “I started my first-class career on New Year’s Eve and Arthur Morris was my captain. It was one of those days where it rained from the start of the day till the finish and we had no play.

“We played against Queensland and I was something of a surprise choice. I’m not sure I was precisely what Arthur wanted because the pitch out there was green. It was very low-scoring game and in fact there were only 160 overs bowled.

“New South Wales were behind in the first innings and won the game, with Morris spanking 108 not out of 143 before lunch on the last day. It was a terrific game. Of those 160 overs I’d like to tell you I was a star. However, Arthur came up to me and said: “Son, I’m sorry I couldn’t get you to bowl.”

The moment that became the fist turning point of Benaud’s cricketing life came in 1940 when he came to the SCG for the first time with his father, who took him by steam train and tram to watch New South Wales play South Australia. “It was at about the moment when they were about to abandon the Sheffield Shield due to the war,” he said. “New South Wales were captained by Stan McCabe and South Australia captained by Don Bradman.

“Clarrie Grimmett was in the South Australian side and Bill O’Reilly in the New South Wales side. I sat with my father in the old Sheridan Stand with a little pack of sandwiches and a bottle of blue currant orange juice. I saw Grimmett’s 6 for 118 and next morning I was out bowling leg breaks against the wall.”

Part of the Basil Sellers Sports Sculpture Project, Benaud’s life-size sculpture was inaugurated by professor Marie Bashir, the New South Wales governor. The ten subjects will include four cricketers, two rugby union players, two rugby league representatives and two Australian rules competitors. “It is worth remembering,” Benaud said, “that when I’m standing here what I’m really doing is representing all those players who played for New South Wales and had the honour to be at the SCG and be part of the a lovely atmosphere that has been at the ground ever since I saw it for the first time.”

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