Robin Scott-Elliot: Rations of Richie leave devotees begging for more

View From The Sofa: The Ashes, five/Sky Sports
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The Independent Culture

When Australia becomes a republic (and to judge by the outfits favoured by some of their supporters in Cardiff it will be of the banana variety), there is only one candidate for president. Richie Benaud is cricket's Nelson Mandela, the unflappable elder statesman, ever diplomatic, forever wise, and while Mandela had to spend much of his life in prison, Richie has had to spend his in Australia which a couple of centuries ago would have amounted to the same thing (sorry, cheap shot, or a KP as it's now known).

Richie – it's always just Richie – has looked more or less the same ever since I first remember seeing him on the BBC, way back when the BBC cared about cricket (in between skiving off to the news, racing, Play School, the test card). After four years he is back but this time it's a farewell tour. He will commentate Down Under next season and then that will be that. From then on only Mrs Richie will get to hear that mellifluous voice murmur, "Morning, Daphne, morning soft-boiled egg, morning soldiers", without any discernible lip movement (if he's looking to branch out into new areas, as bowlers like to say, ventriloquism would be a breeze).

He is a demigod on this sofa. My brother once trailed him into a urinal in Newcastle and claims his feet never touched the ground, a handy skill in a flooded North-east toilet. We grew up with Richie, long summer days with the curtains shut tight, clustered in front of the telly as men with big hair – hello, Richard Ellison – skittled shoddy Australian sides (they did exist once) and were then walloped by a mighty West Indies (ditto), all to the restrained soundtrack of Benaud.

This summer he's on Five's highlights, and only on Saturdays. It's Richie rationing and there are only four more "Morning, Mark" to go. He's not actually commentating any more, rather addressing the nation at intervals. Mark Nicholas, looking as lovely as ever, asks the question and Richie nods knowingly.

He begins his answer looking at Nicholas and then turns to us, staring down the camera lens, more Yoda-like than ever. He talked of Bradman, of Laker, and then he proposed that today's players are better than in his day, the sort of statement that elevates him to a place where the Boycotts can never reach.

The Ashes on Five and Sky is blessed with two strong line-ups, unlike the event itself. Five have the better frontman in Nicholas, although calling Ian Chappell "Chappelli" is a step too far and, given that Chappell is the hardest man in the world, a dangerous one too. The problem one tends to find when it comes to David Gower on Sky is that he never uses one word when 20, give or take a straying adjective or two, or three actually, or an adverb for that matter, will do given the circumstances, and subclauses.

Sky's main problem in Cardiff was that their line-up was incomplete. When you've indulged in an extensive advertising campaign featuring Shane Warne's barbie, to have the great Pom griller himself Awol playing poker in Las Vegas leaves a baggy green elephant lurking in the commentary box.

There was a moment of hope when a camera picked out a large Australian in the Cardiff crowd, swigging beer and sporting a T-shirt proclaiming, "I ate all the pies". False alarm, it was a different large Australian, or as Richie might have put it, a man who has gone straight into the confectionery stall and not come out again.