‘Voice of cricket’ Richie Benaud dies at 84

Former Australian captain Richie Benaud, whose peerless commentary made him the beloved ‘voice of cricket’ to fans around the world following a stellar on-field career, has died aged 84.

Benaud, one of Australia’s most influential cricketers and television personalities, who captained his country and made 63 Test match appearances, died peacefully overnight in his sleep, his family said.

He had been battling skin cancer and recovering from the after-effects of a car accident in 2013.

Dubbed the ‘Voice of Cricket’, he was as revered in England, where he worked on television from 1963 to 2005, as he was in his homeland.

An innovative leg-spin bowler, Benaud took 248 Test wickets at an average of 27.03 and had a highest score of 122 in a remarkable career that saw him take five wickets 16 times.

Benaud last captained Australia against South Africa in the 1963-64 series, before going on to become a legend as one of cricket’s best known characters and broadcasters.

A pioneer of entertaining, attacking cricket, the veteran of 63 Test matches was the first player to score 2,000 Test runs and take 200 Test wickets.

Australia never lost a series under the leg-spinning all-rounder’s captaincy, which ran for 28 games from 1958.

After such an impressive playing career, Benaud became even better known as a prolific author, columnist and commentator on cricket.

Following the 1956 Ashes tour in England, he completed a BBC training course, while still a player, marking the beginning of a 40-year association with the corporation.

He moved into commentary, firstly with the BBC in England, where he was as well known as in Australia for his dry wit and distinctive style, and enjoyed a long association with the corporation following his first radio appearance for them in 1960, before moving across to BBC TV three years later.

With his mellifluous, light delivery, enthusiastically imitated by comedians and cricket fans alike, Benaud also became the lead commentator on Australian television’s Channel Nine from 1977.

His final commentary in England came during the 2005 Ashes series for Channel 4, who he worked for during the final six years of his career in the UK, but he continued to work for Channel Nine in Australia until 2013.

On his own distinctive and unrivalled commentary style: “What I want most from being a television commentator is to be able to feel that, when I say something, I am talking to friends.”

“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 key thing was to learn the value of economy with words and to never insult the viewer by telling them what they can already see.”

“Out in the field, you haven’t got anyone whispering into your ear saying all sorts of things, you’ve got to do it yourself.”

He could also turn a vivid phrase and was inspired by an Ian Botham six during the 1981 Ashes Test at Headingley, part of one of the greatest series ever.

“Don’t bother looking for that, let alone chasing it,” Benaud commentated. “It’s gone straight into the confectionery stall and out again.”

He also played a key role in the formation of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket that revolutionised the professional game in the 1970s, and anchored the billionaire’s Channel Nine cricket coverage for decades.

Tributes poured in from around the the world for Benaud, who was born in Penrith, in western Sydney, in 1930. Moments after his death was confirmed by his long-term employer Channel Nine, sports stars and celebrity cricket fans paid their respects.

Former England cricketer Jonathan Agnew, who worked with Benaud during his time at the BBC, said: “Richie Benaud was the doyen of cricket commentators. He was quite simply peerless. Nobody else had his authority, popularity and skill.

“Captain of his country, one of the finest all-rounders of his era and a broadcaster beyond compare for five decades … there will never be another Richie Benaud. He was a one-off.”

Whether it was in Britain for the BBC, then Channel 4 after terrestrial Test broadcast rights moved on, and in Australia for ABC and Channel Nine, he barely missed a ball for 45 years.

Only from 2009 onwards, with Test cricket in England long flown to satellite television, did his appearances begin to become more sporadic.

He was unable to take up his commentary duties on Australia’s 5-0 whitewash of England in 2013/14, having suffered chest and shoulder injuries in a crash in his vintage car weeks before the start of the series. 

A planned comeback to the commentary box around a year later was then put on ice after he revealed he was undergoing treatment for melanomas on his forehead, scalp and neck.

Australian media reported he died in a Sydney hospice with his wife Daphne and family around him.