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Richie Benaud dies


Richie Benaud dies

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SYDNEY (AP) – Within hours of his death on Friday, former Australia cricket captain and pioneering television commentator Richie Benaud was described as a “national treasure” and praised by his peers, current players and the country’s prime minister.

Benaud, 84, died overnight at a Sydney hospice, surrounded by his wife, Daphne, and other family members. He had been fighting skin cancer since late last year.

A veteran of 63 Test matches, Benaud later played a pivotal role in the formation of World Series Cricket in the 1970s and was one of the world’s most recognised commentators, in Australia where he anchored the Nine Network’s cricket coverage for decades, and in Britain.

His time in the commentary box ended after a car crash in 2013 that left him with two fractured vertebrae.

“Richie Benaud’s passing has robbed us not only of a national treasure but a lovely man,” Nine Network chief executive David Gyngell said in a statement. “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.”

Australian Test captain Michael Clarke said Benaud was a gentleman who played cricket in the right spirit.

“He was a great player and a great captain; a wonderful leader of men and he continued that off the field,” Clarke said. “He loved winning. He helped the Australian team have the attitude where they wanted to win. He played the game the right way.”

Benaud, born in Penrith outside Sydney in 1930, was a wily leg-spin bowler and middle-order batsman whose career began in 1952 and ended in 1964.

He was the first player to score 2 000 Test runs and take 200 Test wickets but was most highly regarded not for his individual achievements but his captaincy – he never lost a Test series as Australian captain.

After retiring, Benaud became a commentary icon initially with the BBC in England and later in Australia. His clipped and laconic commentary style was fodder for imitators and cricket fans across the world.

He announced in November that he was fighting skin cancer.

“When I was a kid we never ever wore a cap … because (teammate) Keith Miller never wore a cap,” Benaud said at the time. “If I knew, when I was at school and playing in my early cricket days, the problems that would have come if I didn’t do something about protection of the head and using sunscreens and all sorts of things like that, I’d have played it differently.”

Despite his retirement, Benaud did voice a touching tribute to Australian cricketer Phillip Hughes, who died during a match last November, which was screened before Australia’s Test series against India last December in Adelaide.

Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Benaud will be “very, very much missed”.

“There would hardly be an Australian over the last 40 years who hasn’t listened to Richie Benaud,” Abbott said.

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