Richie Benaud, the legendary Australian cricket captain who mesmerised generations of fans with his commentary on the game, died in Sydney on Thursday night, Cricket Australia (CA) said on Friday. Benaud, 84, was an outstanding leg-spinner and aggressive batsman in his playing days.
He fought a long battle with skin cancer and had also suffered from the after-effects of a serious car accident near his home in Sydney’s suburb Coogee in late 2013. Benaud retired in 1964 as Australia’s leading Test bowler with 248 scalps and with an enviable record of having never lost a series as captain.
Benaud stood at the top of the game throughout his life, first as a record-breaking leg-spinner and captain, and then as cricket’s most famous and most impersonated broadcaster. His most memorable day came when Australia and the West Indies shared Test cricket’s first tie at the Gabba in 1960-61. At tea, when pressed by selector Don Bradman, Benaud said: “We’re going for a win, of course.”
The result and the gripping series helped revitalise the Test format after a sombre period in the 1950s. Australia never lost a series when Benaud was in charge, thanks to his aggressive and thoughtful leadership that included a knack for switching the field shortly before a breakthrough.
He was in charge for 28 games, which was then a record, and was the country’s first skipper to win a series in Pakistan. When he left after 63 Tests, he owned 248 wickets, which came at an average of 27.03. With the bat, he collected three centuries – two were against South Africa in 1957-58 — and had a final tally of 2,201 runs.
By 1960, he was working for the BBC and News of the World, and he joined Channel Nine for Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, anchoring the network’s coverage for decades.
His crisp style, wry humour, understated delivery and array of jackets made him a favourite of the masses. He scaled back his commitments in England after the 2005 Ashes series, declining to work for a subscription-television broadcaster but continued writing his Sunday column.
Benaud was inducted into the Australian Cricket Hall of Fame at the Allan Border Medal ceremony in 2007, and a spot in the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame followed in 2009. The 2013-14 summer was the first time when Benaud was missing from the commentary box after decades.
He had crashed his vintage 1963 Sunbeam Alpine into a brick garden wall whilst driving in the Coogee area of Sydney the previous October and recovered slowly from a cracked sternum and rib injuries.
The Australian government on Friday offered a state funeral to the family of Benaud. All flags on New South Wales government buildings and establishments including the Sydney Harbour Bridge were lowered to half-mast on Friday.
Australia’s prime minister Tony Abbott said there would hardly be an Australian over the past 40 years who hadn’t listened to Benaud on radio or television. “He certainly will be very, very much missed,” Abbott was quoted as saying by the BBC on Friday. “He was a very, very effective cricketer, a great captain, a great character and great personality.”
Tributes poured in for the legend from the cricketing world soon after the news of his death surfaced. Shane Warne, Darren Lehman, Michael Clarke, Glenn McGrath, Brett Lee, David Warner were among the past and present Australian cricketers who paid tribute to the legendary cricketer and broadcaster via Twitter.
“Dear Richie, I’ve known you & Daphne for close to 30 years & to everyone you were a legend on all,” tweeted Warne, arguably the greatest leg-spinner of all time. The International Cricket Council (ICC) joined the Board of Control for Cricket in India (BCCI) and CA.
“Today is a very sad day for cricket as it mourns the passing of one of its most beloved sons. On behalf of the ICC, I offer my deepest condolences to the family and friends of Richie Benaud as well as everyone connected with Australia cricket,” ICC chief executive David Richardson said.
“Our country has lost a national treasure. After Don Bradman, there has been no Australian player more famous or more influential than Richie Benaud,” CA chairman Wally Edwards said in a statement. India’s Test captain Virat Kohli described the Australian as one of those who could be recognised easily only by his voice. Benaud leaves behind a wife of 48 years, Daphne, and two children from his first marriage. (IANS)