TRAVEL PASSPORT: RICHIE BENAUD

The famed Aussie has flown a million and a half miles all in the name of cricket, both as player and TV commentator

I started travelling in 1953, with my first cricket tour of England. In those days we always travelled by ship, first class on P&O liners. On each of my first three tours, in '53, '56 and '61, we broke the speed record for the crossing from Fremantle, Western Australia, to England. The first time it took just over four weeks; the last, about three weeks. It was black tie for dinner every night - quite strange for a young boy from Parramatta, like me. Since 1964 travel has always been by plane.

We always stopped over in Colombo on the way to play a match, but otherwise it was straight through to England. We had a tough fitness regime on deck: Neil Harvey and I organised rigorous games for three hours every day in the hot sun. I don't think today's fitness trainers would approve, but we always arrived extremely fit.

Perhaps because England was the first foreign country I saw, it has always been my favourite place. Back in 1953 I was pretty happy to get here. I had read and heard so much about it.

My second favourite foreign country is France; my wife and I have a tiny apartment just outside Nice. I'm patron of the France Cricket Association, believe it or not: the country has associate status as a cricketing nation. My job is to keep a fatherly eye on the sport there.

In fact my ancestors were French: the first Benaud left France for Australia in 1838. There is even a village called Benaud, just south of Clermont- Ferrand; I'm told it's the smallest place you can ever see.

Since retiring as a player, I've been totally concerned with cricket journalism. My wife and I spend half the year in Australia and half in Europe, following the cricket seasons. My most memorable touring experience was arriving in the West Indies for the first time, in 1955. At the airport there were 3,000 people waiting to greet us, in a terminal designed to fit 500 at most.

One of my more unusual travel moments came during the World Cup in India in 1996, when all the TV commentators for Australia's Channel 9, including me, were late for the first match, in Vishakhapatnam. The producer found a young radio commentator who had never done TV before and said to him: "Right, you're on." Two minutes later he was broadcasting, by himself, live on television to the whole of Australia.

It ended up taking me 98 hours to get to Vishakhapatnam - the delays included having to make an immediate return to Delhi before we ran out of fuel.

Generally, though, I've had very few downers while travelling. Losing my passport has been one of my greatest fears, which is perhaps why I've never done it, despite having travelled over a million and a half miles in the past 50 years.

I

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