At Old Trafford in 1961 Benaud achieved almost the fictional; England at 150 for 1, needed only 106 runs with 9 wickets in hand to win. It was a hopeless situation for Australia, but Benaud gambled shrewdly---he switched to round the wicket to right-handers, aiming for the turn from boot marks---and worked the improbable. Dexter, Close, May (the latter bowled round the legs, sweeping) and Subba Row were dismissed in 5 overs, England collapsing to 201 all out. Benaud walked back with 32-11-70-6.
Benaud repossessed the Ashes, which his teams then successfully defended twice. As a leg-spinner, he was full of baits and traps, and he batted and fielded with verve. Yet it was his presence, as much as anything, which summoned the best from players: cool but communicative, he impressed as one to whom no event was unexpected, no contingency unplanned for. The same has applied to his journalism: terse, direct and commonsensical, and his broadcasting: mellow and authoritative. His wise head was sought by Kerry Packer in the formation of World Series Cricket in 1977, conferring respectability on the breakaway professional circuit. A guru to Ian Chappell and Shane Warne among others, he is perhaps the most influential cricketer and cricket personality since the Second World War. (To be continued)