The Funeral of Don Bennett will take place on Friday 4 July 2014 at 11.20am at West Hertfordshire Crematorium, High Elms Lane, Watford, WD25 0JS, and will be followed by a wake at Radlett Cricket Club, Cobden Hill, Watling Street, Radlett, Hertfordshire, WD7 7JN.
Please note: No flowers, please make donations to either Alzheimer’s Society or Isabel Hospice.
Donations to Alzheimer’s Society can be made in the following ways:
Online at <www.alzheimers.org.uk/donate, by calling 0845 306 0898, or by post to FREEPOST RRRL-JRJB-YCSX, Devon House, 58 St Katharine's Way, London, E1W 1LB, with cheques and postal orders made payable to Alzheimer’s Society.
Donations to Isabel Hospice can be made in the following ways:
Online at www.isabelhospice.org.uk/helping-us/make_a_donation/donate-now, by calling 01707 382500 or by post to Head Office, 61 Bridge Road East, Welwyn Garden City, Hertfordshire, AL7 1JR, with cheques and postal orders made payable to Isabel Hospice.
In order to help us with the organisation, can you please indicate whether you intend to come to the funeral at West Hertfordshire Crematorium and the wake at Radlett Cricket Club by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org by no later than midday on Friday 27th June 2014.
Don Bennett Tribute, by Angus Fraser MBE, Managing Director of Cricket, Middlesex County Cricket Club.
It is hard to imagine what Don Bennett would have made of modern day management and coaching. There is no doubt he would have embraced many aspects of it as he was always open to new ideas. For the 30 years Don was Head Coach at Middlesex County Cricket Club we were always ahead of other counties in the way we prepared and trained. Having played football for Arsenal and Coventry he knew how important fitness was. A dinosaur he was not.
Don would not, however, have enjoyed the namby pamby, touchy feely, tread carefully around a player approach that currently exists. Don was a no nonsense man's man. He did not speak for effect, in fact he often said very little. But when he did speak it was because he had something important to say and you listened.
Don didn't waste words. He did not pour false praise on an underperforming player just to satisfy their ego. In his own straight, polite and honest manner he let you know exactly where you stood and why you were not playing. A simple: "in our view someone is performing better than you," was the usual answer to that question. And if your assessment of how you were performing and what you needed to do to get in the side was some distance away from his and the Middlesex captain of my generation, Mike Gatting, he would quickly make you aware of what standards were expected.
I always remember Philip Tufnell, after producing his first match-winning five wicket haul for Middlesex, sitting next to me and wondering why nobody was making a fuss of him and his performance. Don came over to say "well done" and Tufnell muttered his frustration. After listening to Tuffers little moan Don just said: "Philip, that's what we pick and pay you for," and walked away. If Don said "well done" to you, you knew you had achieved something special. His management let you know that you were expected to perform to a high level and produce good performances if you picked for the 1st XI.
Don was an extremely proud man. As almost 50 years of service to Middlesex demonstrates, he was incredibly loyal too. Born in Wakefield, Yorkshire, he learnt and played his cricket in a tough Middlesex dressing-room that was full of strong characters and personalities. Don was a fine all-rounder. He did not play for England but he did score more than 10,500 runs and take 748 wickets with his bustling medium pace in an 18 year career.
It was, however, as a coach that Don gave Middlesex his greatest service. As a man he had very strong principles. He knew what was right and wrong and how the game should be played. Poor behaviour and ill-discipline were treated as more serious indiscretions than poor cricket.
As a coach he expected you to take pride in yourself and to respect Middlesex CCC and the game of cricket. As a Middlesex player he left you in no doubt of how privileged you were to represent the club and to play at Lord's. If a player did not show genuine respect for this he would come down hard on them.
Eighteen years of cricket in the summer and football during the winter meant that Don's knees were well worn by the time I joined Middlesex in 1984. Yet even then he was extremely fit and strong. He would occasionally join in pre-season training. Even in his 50's he gave Gatt a good run for his money in pre-season. He also had no hesitation in taking out a fancy-dan player when we were playing indoor football. He encouraged individuality and flair but had no time for posers.
At the bar he only drank halves of bitter and he expected you to look after yourself and eat well. During my early days I received several of the famous 'DB rollockings.' Once I blamed my mother for being late to a match. In no uncertain terms he told me it was my responsibility to get to a cricket ground on time. I was told to buy a decent pair of shoes rather than wear moccasins when I had a bad back too.
I also found out how particular he was about our diet when, with my hands full I innocently and foolishly placed a bag of fish and chips on his car as I got out of a team-mates car. As a prank, and knowing Don's opposition to fast food, my colleague, Kevan James, deliberately parked his car next to Don's so he would see my evening meal. The verbal rollicking I received has never been forgotten. He also knew Kevan had set me up and called him to his room that evening.
Like a lot of coaches of that generation his bark was slightly worse than his bite. For many of us he acted as a second father, pointing us back in the right direction when we strayed. There was a sensitive side to him too and he always had time for you. If you went to him with a problem he would always do his utmost to help.
Whether it was at the hotel bar or in the dressing room whilst we were batting he loved talking about cricket, football, golf and wine. I like my wine too but once, when I knew little about the subject, he asked me what reds I was drinking. It embarrasses me now but, trying to impress him and after drinking one bottle of it, I said: 'Bordeaux''. Later that year I was in hospital after surgery. Don turned up at my hospital bed to see how I was with a bottle of Chateau Clarke, an expensive Bordeaux. It didn't last long once I got home. It was lovely.
The way he conducted himself and kept his distance from the players meant there was always a sense of mystery and awe about him. There was a huge amount of respect too. In his 30 years as coach he worked with dozens of cricketers that were better players than him and many who had gone on to play for England. Yet never did I see anyone disrespect him. Everyone, even the most colourful and controversial figures, knew he wasn't a man to challenge.
Philip Tufnell's career in many ways highlighted Don's qualities as a coach and manager. At a young age he identified Tufnell's talent and free spirit. At times his behaviour drove him to distraction and there were many occasions when he could have sacked him. But Don tolerated Tufnell's indiscretions and never tried to take his personality away. The joy for Don came from watching him bowl and the huge contribution he played in helping Middlesex win two championship titles. He celebrated Tuffers going on to play for England and becoming one of the club's great cricketers. A smaller minded man would not have seen the bigger picture and no cricketer, with the possible exception of Gatting, who he worked hand in glove with for 15 years, will be more upset by his passing than Philip.
Identifying young talent is not an exact science but it is a real skill. Evaluating the long term technical and mental abilities of an 18 year old is not easy and successfully picking those that have the potential to get right to the top is a quality very few have. It was, however, one of Don's greatest assets. One only has to look at the cricketers he introduced to Middlesex CCC, whether they were from Brondesbury or Barbados, to see proof of that. The list of great players he signed and nurtured is as impressive as any coach county cricket has produced.
Don was never a man for big statements but he did once stick his neck out in 1997. Our 21 year-old overseas player was only a couple of weeks into his summer at Middlesex but after watching the all- rounder bat, bowl, catch and go about his general business he quietly said to a couple of us that thought this cricketer had the potential to be one of the greatest players the game has seen. As good as Gary Sobers was the quote. It was a big call. Seventeen years later his judgement is seen to be inspired. The young man's name was Jacques Kallis.
Cricket followers love comparing the achievements of great players and questioning whether their records will ever be broken. It is hard to believe a batsman will pass the number of international hundreds Sachin Tendulkar scored or the Test wickets Muttiah Muralitharan took. Equally, it is unlikely that any cricketer/coach will surpass the devotion and success Don Bennett gave and brought to a single county.
In an era of false hyperbole, where occasional moments of excellence can turn a journeymen into a legend, Don Bennett will always be remembered as one of the most significant figures in the history of Middlesex County Cricket Club, and rightly so.
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