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Cricket great Richie Benaud dies

Sydney Morning Herald logo Sydney Morning Herald 10/04/2015 Eryk Bagshaw
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Legendary cricket commentator and player Richie Benaud has died in a Sydney hospice at the age of 84. 

Benaud had been receiving radiation treatment for skin cancer since November.

His family announced that he had died peacefully in his sleep.

Benaud was an all-time great all-rounder cricketer, a crafty leg-spinner who captured 248 wickets in 63 Tests, an attacking lower-order batsman who hit one of the fastest Test centuries, a brilliant gully fielder with amazing reflexes and a crowd puller wherever he played.

He was also a courageous and victorious leader of men, who lost neither a Test series nor his cool.

He was the first cricketer to achieve the Test double of 2000 runs and 200 wickets and, as an all-rounder, ranks as one of the greatest.

He also played a stellar role in the formation of World Series Cricket in 1977, which changed the face of international cricket, and, as a television commentator, became "the voice of cricket".

Benaud was born in Penrith on October 6, 1930, the first of two sons of Lou Benaud, of French descent, and his wife, Irene (nee Saville).

As a teenager, Lou had played cricket, but his bigger contribution was encouraging his sons Richie and John (also a Test cricketer) to play single-handed cricket by bowling a tennis ball against a wall and hitting it on the rebound.

While his commentating for Channel Nine has become the stuff of summer legend, Benaud led the Australian team to world cricket dominance in the late 1950s.

He played 64 Test matches as an all-rounder between 1952 and 1964.

Shoulder trouble forced him to retire at 33 in 1963-64.

He took up his spot behind the microphone with the BBC while still captaining Australia in 1960, before becoming one of the greatest commentators in world cricket over the next half a century.

In 2013, Benaud was involved in a car crash outside his Coogee home that left him with two fractured vertebrae and ended his time in the commentary box.

He is widely regarded as one of the most influential people in the game's history.

Benaud was also involved in Sydney's murky world of police rounds reporting, working for afternoon daily The Sun in the late 1950s, Max Presnell recalls.

"Every copper at the CIB gravitated to ... Benaud - unsurprisingly, because he was Australia's cricket captain and they were enthusiastic to give him any special insight or colour he required," he writes.

Benaud opened up about his battle with skin cancer in November before the start of the last cricket season to warn people of the dangers of not wearing sun protection.

He regretted not wearing sunscreen during his decades-long cricket career and as a child.

"I never ever wore a cap on the field when I was playing," he said. "I wish I had. Because the skin cancers which I got then as a young man - that's a recurring thing now."

Among the many things that made Benaud endlessly fascinating and hugely likeable was his singular approach to style.

From an early age he showed a penchant for fashion flair, evident in the jaunty way he chose to flip up his shirt collar on the field.

His fashion sense really came into its own in the 1980s when he curated the look that came to define his decades as the country's pre-eminent cricket commentator - the beige jacket (or was it cream, off-white or bone?), the pink/mauve shirts, the perma-tan and the helmet of snowy hair.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has offered the Benaud family a state funeral.

NSW Premier Mike Baird tweeted that he had asked for flags to be flown at half-mast today.

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Brilliant captain: Alan Davidson

Australian fast bowling great Alan Davidson who played with Benaud as a schoolboy all the way through to Australian representation said Benaud was one of the great captains.

"He was a great assessor of the game," Davidson said. "With Richie, it was never a risk but always a calculated decision to do something.

"Nobody every analysed or knew the opposition like Richie did and it was the same thing with his own team - he knew what every player in the side could do and that allowed for him to make decisions which, to the outsider, who wasn't a cricket expert, seemed 'different'.

"Richie could assess a situation quickly, it wasn't so much waiting for a coach to send a message out because he acted mid-over. I bowled long spells for him on many an occasion ... he was a brilliant captain, a joy to play for - you have no idea."

We've lost an icon: Abbott

Mr Abbott, speaking at RAAF Base Amberley, west of Brisbane, said: "Our nation has lost an icon. Richie Benaud passed away overnight.

"Richie Benaud has been the voice of cricket. There would be very few Australians who have not passed a summer in the company of Richie Benaud. He was the accompaniment of an Australian summer. His voice was even more present than the chirping of the cicadas in our suburbs and towns and that voice, tragically, is now still.

"But we remember him with tremendous affection. He hasn't just been the voice of cricket since the early 1960s, he was an extraordinarily successful Australian cricket captain. He led our country for five years in 28 Tests and he never lost a Test series.

"He was the first cricketer to achieve the remarkable double of 2000 Test runs and 200 Test wickets. This is the greatest loss for cricket since the loss of Don Bradman and for that reason I'm pleased to have offered the Benaud family a state funeral.

"But this is a sad day for everyone who loves cricket and it's a sad day for everyone who has felt that Richie Benaud is a part of his or her life."

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The face of cricket: John Howard

Former Australian prime minister John Howard, a keen cricket enthusiast, told Channel Nine that Benaud was in so many ways the face of cricket to Australians.

Mr Howard said Benaud was "universally respected".

"He was regarded as a true professional when it came to cricket commentary," Mr Howard said.

"He didn't waste words. He didn't just feel it was necessary to talk into the microphone. If he didn't have anything to say, well he wouldn't say it, and that's a pretty good rule.

"He had enormous respect because he was a class act. He was a champion player himself."

Mr Howard said also praised Benaud's skills as a journalist.

"As a print journalist he was very good, he wrote for English newspapers for decades ... He could write as well as talk."

Sad day: Shorten

Opposition Leader Bill Shorten said Australia had lost a legend of cricket and its "voice of summer".

"Sad day for our country. Farewell & rest in peace Richie Benaud," he tweeted.

SYDNEY, AUSTRALIA - OCTOBER 15: Richie Benaud talks to other guests before the Cricket Australia season launch at Museum of Contemporary Art on October 15, 2012 in Sydney, Australia. Richie Benaud – Life in pictures

Best in the business: Channel Nine

Channel Nine chief executive David Gyngell said Benaud's passing had "robbed us not only of a national treasure, but a lovely man".

"Richie earned the profound and lasting respect of everyone across the world of cricket and beyond - first as an outstanding player and captain, then as an incomparable commentator, and through it all as a wonderful human being," he said on Friday.

Nine's head of sport Steve Crawley said Benaud, 84, had been the "best in the business".

"You didn't have to know Richie to love him. Everything about him. Best in the business bar none. We will miss him the way you miss loved ones. And at the same time we will thank our lucky stars he came our way at all," he said.

Letter that inspired fan

A hand-written letter from Benaud to a young English leg-spinner almost 20 years ago has emerged as a touching example of the great cricketer's personal qualities and deep respect for his fans.

For Jonathan Stevenson of Nottingham, Benaud's courtesy and gentlemanly conduct shone through in the letter, which he tweeted on Friday upon hearing of the cricketer's death.

"Wrote to Richie Benaud when I was 16 about bowling leggies. His detailed reply says everything about the great man," Stevenson, who later worked for the BBC and is now a director at LiveWire Sport, said.

Cricket great mourn 'godfather'

Former Australian Test captain Steve Waugh described the passing of the great Richie Benaud as "immense" while former Australian fast bowler Geoff Lawson said cricket had lost its "godfather".

Doug Walters, the king of the SCG Hill from the 1960s to the '80s said he benefited from being exposed to a true gentleman's positive manner.

Tributes flow in

Benaud was beloved overseas, particularly in Britain where he had a commentary career spanning 50 years after he started as a police reporter in 1960.

The Mirror said "Goodbye to the master of the microphone", while the BBC praised his "mellifluous, light delivery, enthusiastically imitated by comedians and cricket fans alike" and The Times remembered him as "the king of commentary".

As news of Benaud's death spread, tweets poured in from across the world.

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