Benaud treasured as a cricket icon

Superlatives flowed from around the world as Richie Benaud was remembered as an Australian treasure, sporting icon and voice of cricket after his death on Friday, aged 84.

The former Australian captain and commentary doyen died overnight in his sleep after battling skin cancer.

A pioneer on the field, off it and behind the microphone, Benaud was hailed as “the Godfather of Australian cricket” and second only to Sir Donald Bradman for his immense contribution to the game.

“Our country has lost a national treasure,” Cricket Australia chairman Wally Edwards said.

“After Don Bradman, there has been no Australian player more famous or more influential than Richie Benaud.”

Benaud will receive a state funeral, flags flew at half-mast on Friday and floral tributes began piling up next to the bronze statue of Benaud at the SCG.

Prime minister Tony Abbott said there would barely be an Australian in the past four decades who hadn’t listened to Benaud’s commentary.

“He has been a part of the lives of millions of Australians and he will certainly be very much missed,” he said.

Shane Warne said Benaud had been an inspiration to him.

“It was an honour and a privilege to call you a close friend and mentor,” Warne tweeted.

“We had so many wonderful times together, talking cricket and in particular, our love and passion of legspin bowling.”

Benaud was instrumental in the successful formation of World Series Cricket in 1977, a revolution that changed the game forever, and was regarded globally as the finest commentator the sport has known.

But he was a gentleman first and foremost, and one of Australia’s greatest players.

The legspinning allrounder played 63 Test matches between 1952 and 1964, becoming the first Test cricketer to take 200 wickets and score 2000 runs.

Renowned as a shrewd tactician, Benaud never lost a Test series while captain.

For all his on-field achievements, though, Benaud’s ever-lasting imprint on the game he loved came off the field.

He entertained millions of viewers each and every summer with his witty, incomparable and impeccably presented commentary while anchoring the Nine Network’s cricket coverage for decades.

“His iconic status as a commentator and the Godfather of Australian cricket, it’s just unparalleled,” said former ICC chief executive Malcolm Speed, who believed Benaud had deserved a knighthood.

“I think it would have been seen as a very fitting tribute … it would have been a great finish.”

Australia’s current Test captain Michael Clarke said he was a “great player and a great captain, a wonderful leader of men”.

“He loved winning. He helped the Australian team have the attitude where they wanted to win. He played the game the right way,” Clarke told the Nine Network.

Kerry Packer repaid Benaud for his commitment to World Series Cricket and loyalty to Nine with a job for life.

“Dad and I enjoyed a long, long professional and personal journey with Richie Benaud,” James Packer said.

“He was not only for nearly four decades a much-loved figure in the Nine family, but also in the Packer family.

“We never had a cross word. Richie’s word was his bond.

“A lovely, generous, caring human being who was always the very best company.”

It wasn’t just his former colleagues, teammates and friends remembering Benaud on Friday.

From actor Russell Crowe to NRL boss Dave Smith and sportsmen and women across the world from all codes and pursuits, the tributes flooded Twitter and social media.

“A sad day in cricket. I will sadly miss listening to the legend – Richie Benaud’s commentary,” tweeted Socceroos great Harry Kewell.

“His voice IS cricket. #RIPRichieBenaud.”

A car accident in 2013 effectively ended Benaud’s commentary career before he announced in November last year that he was fighting skin cancer.

Blessed with impeccable timing, Benaud’s 84-year innings ended somewhat fittingly less than a fortnight after Australia won the World Cup for a fifth time.

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