TRIBUTES poured in today for legendary Australian cricketer and commentator Richie Benaud, who has died at 84.
Benaud had been battling skin cancer and recovering from the after-effects of a car accident in 2013.
He was as revered in England, where he worked on television from 1963 to 2005, as he was in his homeland.
Yorkshire County Cricket Club president Dickie Bird, a close friend of Benuad, told The Yorkshire Post that cricket had lost “the very best.”
He said: “He was a great friend of mine and the king of commentary.
“An an era of wonderful commentators like Henry Longhurst in golf, and Brian Johnston and John Arlott in cricket, he was the very best. Not only was he a great cricketer, and captain of Australia, he was a professional at his job. When he went into commentating and journalism he took to it like a duck to water.
“There’s never been one like him and never will be again.”
Benaud, who played 63 Test Matches for Australia between 1952 and 1964 and also led his country on 28 occasions, and was described by the England and Wales Cricket Board (ECB) today as “one of the foremost cricketing figures of the post-war era, a leg-spinning all-rounder and a shrewd and innovative captain.”
The MCC flag at Lords, the home of cricket, was flying at half mast today.
ECB chairman Giles Clarke said: “Cricket has lost perhaps its greatest advocate and someone who was a true giant of the modern game. Richie was a marvellously talented cricketer who in the early part of his career gave much to the Australian team as a player and a leader. But he will always, above all, be remembered as one of cricket’s most influential and authoritative voices; a supremely gifted broadcaster, journalist and author.
“It is humbling to think that Richie was involved in more than 500 Test Matches as a player or a commentator. Few could match the breadth of knowledge and insight he brought to the commentary box; and all leavened by his marvellous dry wit which millions came to know and love both in this country and across the world.”
ECB CEO Tom Harrison added: “Richie was a one-man cricketing institution; a peerless broadcaster and a master of his craft. His distinctive style of commentary was much loved, often imitated, but never surpassed.
“Our sporting summers will never be quite the same without him in this country – and how right and fitting it was that his final words of live commentary on British television coincided with the conclusion of arguably the greatest Test series of them all – the 2005 Ashes. Our sympathies go out to Richie’s wife Daphne and to all his many friends and colleagues across the cricketing world.”
Benaud’s leg-spin claimed 248 wickets and he scored 2,201 runs in 63 Tests - the first cricketer to reach 200 wickets and surpass 2,000 runs at that level - but when he turned broadcaster, he was not one to hark back to his own great successes.
Indeed, Benaud was loved for his brevity, letting the action speak for itself.
He once told fellow broadcasters: “Put your brain into gear and if you can add to what’s on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up.”
He offered warmer words of advice for his TV peers, saying: “Above all don’t take yourself too seriously and have fun.”
Moments after his death, stars and cricket fans vented their emotions on Twitter.
Australian prime minister Tony Abbott said: “A sad day for Australia. We have lost a cricketing champion and Australian icon. What an innings. RIP Richie Benaud.”
Prime Minister David Cameron said: “I grew up listening to Richie Benaud’s wonderful cricket commentary. Like all fans of the sport, I will miss him very much.”
And Labour leader Ed Miliband added: “Richie Benaud was one of the great voices of my childhood. A superb all-rounder, captain and commentator.”
Former Australian fast bowler Brett Lee said: “Very sad to hear the news today of the passing of Richie Benaud. What a legend of a cricketer and broadcaster for @Channel9 @WWOS9 best ever.”
Piers Morgan said: “RIP Richie Benaud. The greatest cricket commentator of them all & a wonderful man. Mourning Everyone.”
Former England cricketer Jonathan Agnew, writing for the BBC, said: “Richie Benaud was the doyen of cricket commentators. He was quite simply peerless. Nobody else had his authority, popularity and skill.
“Captain of his country, one of the finest all-rounders of his era and a broadcaster beyond compare for five decades ... there will never be another Richie Benaud. He was a one-off.”
England cricketer Michael Carberry tweeted: “Another sad day for cricket! We have lost another great cricketing brother. Watching and listening will never be the same. RIP Richie Benaud.”
Former Leeds and Liverpool footballer Harry Kewell, an Australian international, said: “A sad day in cricket. I will sadly miss listening to the legend richiebenaud ‘s commentary. His voice IS cricket.”
BBC Sport’s Dan Walker tweeted: “Used to wait for Richie Benaud to say ‘morning everyone’ to kick start the summer. Very sad news.”
Sky commentator and former England captain Mike Atherton said: “One of the first things he said to me was ‘you’re a guest in somebody’s front room for six hours a day, so try not to irritate them’.”
Benaud, dubbed the Voice of Cricket, stopped commentating two years ago following a car accident and had been treated for skin cancer.
His place in the game’s pantheon of greats was cemented by then.
Australia coach Darren Lehmann said: “The fact Australia never lost a series under his captaincy says so much and those standards were just as high when he turned his attention to calling the game.
“We loved listening to him commentate when the team was together in the dressing room. When he was on air, we always had the TV volume turned up because his comments were so insightful.”
He mentored Shane Warne in the art of leg-spin, and took delight in seeing him burst on to the international stage in 1993.
When Mike Gatting was bowled by Warne’s unplayable first delivery against England, Benaud remarked pithily: “Gatting has absolutely no idea what has happened to him.”
Warne went on to become his country’s leading wicket-taker, a record once held by his mentor.
Warne paid tribute to his friend on Instagram, saying: “As a cricketer, commentator & as a person, you were the best there’s ever been & to top it off, an absolute gentleman ...
“For me it was an honour & a privilege to call you a close friend & mentor, we had so many wonderful times together, talking cricket & in particular, our love & passion of leg spin bowling.”
England coach Peter Moores added: “Richie sums up all that is great about our sport.
“He was a true gentleman with a real insight into the game and his enthusiasm for the sport made you want to get off the sofa and play. He will be sorely missed.”
Cricket Australia said: “Rest In Peace Richie Benaud, Forever the voice of our summer.”
Hollywood actor Russell Crowe tweeted: “RIP Richie Benaud. My deep gratitude for all you gave to the sport of cricket as a player and as a broadcaster. Sad, sad day.”
Such was his popularity hundreds of “Richies” would don fancy dress - beige suit, grey wigs and homemade Channel Nine microphones - for Tests in Sydney. The group hope to get 700 lookalikes at a game in January.
Benaud’s health had suffered in recent years, after he sustained rib and spine injuries in October 2013 when he drove his vintage 1963 Sunbeam Alpine into a garden wall in Coogee.
A planned comeback to the commentary box around a year later was then put on ice after he revealed he was undergoing treatment for melanomas on his forehead, scalp and neck.
After his diagnosis, he regretted never wearing a cap while playing cricket to protect his head from the sun.
Australian media reported he died in a Sydney hospice with his wife Daphne and family around him.
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