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Sports

Tributes flow in for cricket legend Richie Benaud

media Mourners laid floral tributes beneath a statue of Richie Benaud at Sydney Cricket Ground Reuters/David Gray

Former Australia cricket captain Richie Benaud died on Thursday night, aged 84. After leading his country's Test team for five years, Benaud turned his hand to journalism and broadcasting. It was a move that would bring him respect, success and adulation at home and abroad.

Tributes flowed on Friday as freely as Benaud's wonderful and flamboyantly understated commentary.

A wily leg-spinner who was equally slick with a bat, he played in 63 tests and led his country in 28 of them. He was the first player to score 2,000 Test Match runs and take 200 Test wickets. Australia never lost a test series under his captaincy.

At the age of 33, he apeared to give it all up too early, opting to delve into journalism and broadcasting while still a young man in cricketing terms

But it was a shrewd decision. It was the prelude to decades of success and the stairway to legend.

His became the voice of countless summers in both hemispheres. In England his askance position to the camera and slightly raised eyebrow would often be the precursor to another report chronicling the abject performance of the country's putative best cricketers.

Former England international Jonathan Agnew, who worked alongside Benaud as a broadcaster, described his former colleague as "a true one-off".

"He was quite simply peerless," he added. "Nobody else had his authority, popularity and skill. He had this unique style - the choice of words, how he delivered them, the way he looked. It all came together to make him one of the most recognisable people on television."

His final commentary in England came during England's 2005 Ashes test series against Australia but he continued to work in his home country until 2013 as the anchor for Channel 9's coverage.

"My vintage, we grew up with that voice," said current Australian captain Michael Clarke, who has just led his country to their fifth cricket World Cup.

"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."

His figures for his country stand up to scrutiny. Benaud took 248 Test wickets at an average of 27.03 and had a highest score of 122 in a career that saw him take five wickets 16 times. That kind of ability made him a prized source of advice late into the night long after his time at the crease had ended.

Former India batsman Sachin Tendulkar called his death a great loss to the world of cricket.

Tendulkar said on social media that Benaud had great insights on the game and that he had fond memories of talking with him and his fellow Australian bowler Shane Warne about the art of leg spin.

Warne left an emotional tribute on social media hailing Benaud a hero. The 45-year-old lauded him as the "the godfather of cricket".

Former Australia captain Steve Waugh said Benaud was irreplaceable. "He was unique as he covered all facets of the game, as a player, a commentator, an administrator and a writer. His legacy to the game will always live on."

Last November Benaud revealed he was being treated for skin cancer. The news came a year after he was involved in a serious car crash in 2013.

Australia's Prime Minister Tony Abbott said on Friday that Benaud's family had been offered the chance to give him a state funeral.

"He was the accompaniment of an Australian summer," said Abbott. "He wasn't just the voice of cricket, he was a successful player and captain. This is a sad day for everyone who loves cricket and it's a sad day for everyone who felt that Richie Benaud was part of his or her life."

Flags flew at half-mast, including over the Sydney Harbour Bridge on Friday after the announcement of his death.

Sydney Cricket Ground was opened so mourners could lay flowers around a giant bronze statue of Benaud.

When asked about the key to his success, he replied, "My mantra is: put your brain into gear and if you can add to what's on the screen then do it, otherwise shut up."

The trick, he added, was to avoid insulting the viewer. "The key thing was to learn the value of economy with words by never telling them what they can already see."

But how he could enhance! When England's Ian Botham hit Australia's Terry Alderman for six during the 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley, Benaud flourished: "Don't bother looking for that, let alone chasing it.  It's gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again."

The boy who was born in Penrith, in western Sydney, in 1930, often used the word "marvellous" to illustrate the feats in front of him on the field.

As Benaud leaves a wife, Daphne and two children from his first marriage, the same epithet will vie among the superlatives commending his contributions to cricket and broadcasting.

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