Ashes: Bill Lawry – Australian legend with nothing but memories | Cricket | Sport

2 months ago

“Let’s just enjoy ourselves,” Stackpole told his former Victoria and Australia team-mate. “It’ll never last.”

This week the veteran commentator will call the Sydney Test aged 80 having enjoyed a longer stint behind the mic than he did as a player and, in his words, with “nothing but good memories”.

Lawry’s longevity carries certain echoes of his playing style as am opener – difficult to dislodge. One seven-and-a-half-hour 135 at The Oval in an Ashes Test during his two-year stint as captain in 1968 saw him famously labelled “a corpse with pads”.

As a commentator he has become much-loved with his excitable style, high-pitched “got ‘im, yes!”, his pigeon-fancying, and relationships with greats like Tony Greig and Richie Benaud as caricatured so brilliantly by Billy Birmingham’s Twelfth Man recordings.

“I don’t think deep down Richie really liked those but Greigy loved them. He would always have the new tape on in the car going to the ground and say, ‘Listen to this Bill’ then laugh and laugh.”

Lawry’s affection for Greig comes across as clear as day but it is his admiration and respect for Benaud that shines through two-and-a-half years after his death.

“Richie was my first captain when I made the Australia team and I was always really a little in awe of him,” said Lawry. “He was a man of few words but he had the open-neck shirt, he had the Brylcream a bit like Denis Compton.

“Those tours in the Fifties were long and Richie was in complete control of everything. There were no coaches, just a tour manager, and we went 21 days on the boat, played every county in five-and-a-half months, then 21 days back on the ship travelling first class.

“Every day we’d be in black tie. Richie would be up on the captain’s table; we would be with the engineer’s at the back.

“I remember when we got over to England the captain had to speak at a black-tie dinner at The Savoy in front of 700 people. In 1956 I was right down the back almost behind a pillar but I remember thinking he was just the master.

“He was one of those lucky guys who people were just waiting for the next word to come out. He spoke so slowly that people were, ‘What word’s he gonna say?!’ He would have made a great actor. He had the great poise and the presence and charisma.”

Benaud effortlessly transferred it to television and it brought him fame and fortune for a second time. And it was an invite from his friend which got Lawry on board for World Series Cricket with Kerry Packer in 1977.

“I wouldn’t have done it had it not been for Richie. I was ready to just fly my pigeons,” said Lawry, who had started out as a plumber before Test cricket interfered.

“They were great days. On Channel Nine in those days it was just a joy to be there. Great fun with a fabulous team – Richie, Fred Trueman, Keith Stackpole, myself and then Tony Cozier from the West Indies.

“We used to go out to Daphne and Richie’s place in Coogee during the Sydney Test match. Those were wonderful nights with him buzzing around like a waiter and then at half-nine getting up and saying, ‘Right, I’m going to bed. Your taxis are booked’.”

Lawry will travel to Coogee to pay his respects during this week’s fifth Test and allow himself a smile when he sees ‘The Richies’ in the stands tomorrow – a record 650 of them dressed in their beige jackets and silver-grey wigs, waving their Wide World of Sports Channel Nine mics in tribute.

It is hard to imagine another commentator ever getting such an accolade, for all that Lawry deserves credit for 40 years without gathering a bad word.

He sees it differently, of course. “Forty years watching the greatest players from the best seat in the house,” he said. “I’ve just been so lucky.”