Richie Benaud’s dulcet tones and impeccable intellect confirmed his status as a national icon but, before that, it was the allrounder’s ability to turn Tests that so endeared him to the Australian public.
Benaud claimed 248 wickets in 63 Tests – a record at the time of his retirement in 1964.
He was also the first man to record the milestone of 200 wickets and 2000 runs at Test level.
Such numbers underplay Benaud’s marvellous workrate and desire to improve.
Benaud’s father Lou was a legspinner with Cumberland who once snared 20 wickets in a match.
Richie was likewise inspired by Clarrie Grimmett and Bill ‘Tiger’ O’Reilly in his youth.
However, it was Benaud’s batting that earned him a maiden NSW cap at age 18 and a Test debut as a 21-year-old in 1952.
There was plenty of panache in the following five years, but it wasn’t until the 1957-58 tour of South Africa that the allrounder showcased his ability to dominate consistently with both bat and ball.
He claimed an astonishing 106 wickets and scored 817 runs on that visit.
The highlight was a Test in Johannesburg, where Benaud posted a century and snared nine wickets.
Benaud was always on the attack, be it with bat or ball, and always looking to get better.
It was only late in a Test career that ended in 1964 that Benaud added the flipper to his repertoire, with the help of Bruce Dooland.
In 1961, it was a conversation with veteran Ray Lindwall that emboldened Benaud to bowl around the wicket and into the footmarks at Old Trafford.
“You can do it, but you’d better get it right or they’ll kill you,” Lindwall allegedly quipped of the innovative tactic.
He recorded figures of 6-70, with England collapsing from 1-150 to be all out for 201.
Australia triumphed by 54 runs, snatching the Ashes at a venue where they had previously won two Tests from 17 attempts.
Benaud was renowned for his innovation and accuracy – the latter instilled at countless solo sessions in the nets when he would try to land the ball on a handkerchief that had been set on a good length.
He tweaked his pace, flight, angles and lengths in an effort to keep batsmen guessing.
Despite their different personalities, it is no wonder Shane Warne found him a kindred spirit.
“Your tips and advice along the journey meant so much,” Warne wrote in a tribute on Friday.
Benaud suffered a fractured skull as a youngster due to a mistimed pull shot, but remained a dashing batsman on returning to the crease after a year out.
His most free-flowing innings was a Test century in Jamaica that came in just 78 minutes.
It’s a wondrous knock by 2015 standards. One can only imagine the sense of awe it would have generated 60 years ago. The same can be said of Benaud’s entire career.