Timaru chemist Ivan James (back left) at Richie Benaud’s This is Your Life special in 1976.
As obituary writers around the world turn their pens to the life of Richie Benaud, an incredible story about his life-changing visit to a Timaru chemist has emerged again.
Writing for the Independent newspaper in England, editor Amol Rajan relived the story for readers following Benaud’s death last week.
Benaud was in Timaru with the Australian cricket team in February 1957 for a game against a combined South Canterbury, Mid Canterbury and North Otago team.
Marvellous stroke play from Richie Benaud in the nets at the Sydney Cricket Ground in 1952.
The man who would go on to captain Australia and then the voice of the game as the head of Channel Nine’s cricket commentary team, was then a talented leg-spinner suffering from dengue fever which he had contracted in India a few months earlier.
He’d gone for a walk through Timaru to buy tablets to combat its effects when he went into the chemist shop of Ivan James – now Cameron’s Menswear – on Stafford St.
When he handed over the prescription, James, who died in 1986, noticed Benaud’s fingers.
He had large raw spots on his finger almost to the bone where the seam of the ball cut in. Nothing had ever healed the wound.
They were so bad Benaud faced the prospect of having to stop bowling.
In his 1998 autobiography, Benaud describes being handed a small wide-mouthed bottle plus a container with white powder and a piece of paper with the suggested remedy written on it.
He remembers being rather wary of it, but as James had gone to so much trouble, took the lotion and decided that even though it was a long shot he’d give it a go.
“The treatment instantly worked and the skin was toughened so that even prolonged bowling spells didn’t produce cracking,” Benaud wrote.
“The word genius is much over-used in our society. Mr Ivan James turned out to be a genius.
“There has never been one moment of doubt in my mind that walking into that chemist’s shop in Timaru saved my bowling career and was one of the key reasons why from that moment I moved into top gear as an important all-rounder in Australian cricket.”
The miracle lotion was a combination of an oily calamine lotion and boracic acid powder. The lotion was rubbed into the wound, then the acid powder rubbed in to form a waxy filling in the wound.
James also recommended Benaud carry a piece of fine sandpaper with him to sand off any bits of torn or dead skin.
He had the lotion made up all around the world and used it faithfully for the rest of his career.
James’ connection with Richie Benaud did not stop there. The Timaru man starred on one of Benaud’s This is Your Life television shows screened in Australia in 1976.
* Boult bags three in IPL win
* Bell ton leads England recovery
Even after James’ death Benaud continued to write to his wife Thelma on a regular basis until she died in 2003.
James’ niece, Sport Canterbury’s South Canterbury regional manager Verna Parker, said her uncle was a man who loved experimenting and had used the ointment to help people with war injuries.
“At the time I don’t think Ivan thought much of it. He certainly had an interest in sport and he knew who Richie was, but team sports weren’t really his main interest.
“He was more of a fisher or a clay target shooter – it was Thelma that liked the team sports.”
Parker said she still had a few old bottles of James’ experiments around her Timaru house.
It was “lovely” that Richie had kept in touch with Thelma, even sending her an autographed copy of his book.
“He didn’t have to do that but he did.
“I always enjoyed Richie’s radio commentary. A lot of Aussie commentators are inherently biased whereas you wouldn’t say that about him.”
South Canterbury wicketkeeper John Ward played for the combined team against the Australian team. Ward, who would go on to play eight tests for New Zealand, said Benaud’s presence had a massive impact on his career.
As well as playing, Benaud was asked by New Zealand cricket selectors to keep an eye out for promising players.
“He was probably responsible for me getting into the New Zealand team,” Ward said.
“I’ve got a lot of time for Richie Benaud. He was a great fellow, he really was.”
The scorecard from the two-day game has been dug up from South Canterbury Cricket’s archives this week and does not make for pretty reading.
Australia compiled 137 for 8 – Benaud himself made 12 opening the batting – before the combined team was rolled for 43 and 76.
Australian left-arm opening bowler Ian Meckiff ended up with the astonishing figures of 13 overs, six maidens, eight for 19 in the first innings.
He did not bowl in the second innings, but it hardly mattered, Benaud wrapping up the match with figures of 3.4 overs, four for seven.
“They wanted to finish the game inside a day so they could have a day off,” Ward said.
AUSTRALIA VS COMBINED SCORECARD
Caledonian Grounds, Timaru, February 27 and 28, 1957
Australia – 1st Innings
W Watson lbw Sandri 13
R Benaud c Jack b Dellow 12
N O’Neil b Sandri 0
I Craig (c) c Carleton b Sandri 27
P Burge st Ward b Jack 12
R Simpson b Dellow 7
J Martin ct Dellow b Sandri 15
B Jarman (wk) not out 29
J Drennan b Ashworth 13
I Meckiff not out 2
Total: 137 for 8
Combined – 1st Innings
J White b Meckiff 4
I Griffiths lbw Meckiff 1
B Carleton b Drennan 0
A Dennis b Meckiff 12
W McDonald (c) b Meckiff 0
E Flaherty b Meckiff 2
B Ashworth ct Martin b Meckiff 11
JT Ward (wk) b Meckiff 0
M Sandri run out 0
M Jack not out
N Dellow b Meckiff 0
R Gaunt 3-1-2-0
Combined – 2nd Innings
I Griffiths b Gaunt 0
J White ct Meckiff b Gaunt 0
B Carleton b Martin 20
A Dennis b Martin 0
W McDonald b Gaunt 0
E Flaherty lbw Gaunt 4
B Ashworth not out 28
JT Ward st Jarman b Benaud 5
M Sandri b Benaud 4
M Jack b Benaud 6
N Dellow b Benaud 0
Australia won by an innings and 18 runs.