Richie Benaud
Richie Benaud

The voice of cricket gone, but not forgotten

YOU might not be a cricket fan, but there's no doubt you could pick "the voice of cricket" from a myriad of commentators.

And you might even be able to pull off a Richie Benaud impression.

It was the 84-year-old's cricketing prowess, eccentric drawl, famous sayings and his belief a commentator's job also included allowing watchers moments to enjoy the sport in silence that endeared him to generations and made him a cultural icon.

Benaud even unintentionally inspired a cult following with hordes of men donning balding wigs, outfits similar to Benaud's own trademark beige suits and fashioning their own Channel Nine microphones when heading off to a match in 40 degree heat.

Not forgetting Australian satirist Billy Birmingham's famous Benaud parody album.

Professor David Rowe from the University of Western Sydney's Institute for Culture and Society, who has published books on sports and popular culture, struggled to name anyone as widely embraced in the cricket world and Australian society.

He said Benaud's passing during his sleep at a Sydney hospice on Friday was a sad and significant moment in not just Australia's sporting history.

Benaud had long been ill and was receiving radiation treatment for skin cancer.

Prof Rowe said the former cricket captain's abilities and eccentric commentary style, which even former prime minister John Howard remarked upon on Friday, had found him a place in the "Australian cultural landscape".

"He brought his own style," Mr Howard, who first saw Benaud play in 1952, said.

"He was a gentleman in the proper sense... He's done a lot to maintain the popularity of the game."

Prime Minister Tony Abbott has offered the Benaud family a state funeral for the Channel Nine broadcaster of almost 40 years.

He described Benaud's passing as "the greatest loss for cricket since the loss of Don Bradman".

"While many Australians only know Richard Benaud as the voice of cricket, we should not forget that in his day he was a cricketer with few equals," Mr Abbott said.

"It was why he was so insightful as a commentator."

Mr Howard and Mr Abbott both extended their condolences to Benaud's wife Daphne and the rest of his family.

Nine entertainment chief David Gyngell described Richie as "part of the Australian psyche".

"Richie is a true legend not only to all the people who knew him, but to the many millions who didn't. Which speaks volumes," he said.

Nine's head of sport, Steve Crawley, described Richie as the "best in the business bar none".

It was a sentiment echoed by Prof Rowe.

Prof Rowe, an Englishman living in Australia, said even in the UK Benaud's popularity was widespread.

"He kind of bridged the older world of cricket," he said.

"He had the great advantage of longevity."

Yet Prof Rowe said Benaud keenly encouraged the modernisation of the game, including technological advancements that would enhance cricket.

He praised Benaud's preference for cricket players to have a career and be paid properly, with Benaud making an example of himself through his BBC training and successful transition from player to commentator.

Prof Rowe said the international respect he had garnered as a man of integrity made it difficult to find any sports figure with the kind of reach Benaud had. 

The late Richie Benaud was viewed by many as being No.1 behind a microphone.
The late Richie Benaud was viewed by many as being No.1 behind a microphone. AAP IMAGES


(submitted from our online readers)

Suzi Eastgate "Marvellous!" No one said it better! No one will come close to Richie. A gentleman, legend and great cricketer! Such a sad loss

Alan McIntyre "What a catch... what a catch... marvellous effort that."

Mick Parr "Welcome back"

Debbie Polley "And Glenn McGrath dismissed for two, just ninety-eight runs short of his century." RIP Richie

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