"National treasure" Richie Benaud dies in Australia
The cricket world is mourning the death of former Australia captain and pioneering television commentator Richie Benaud, described as a ''national treasure'' and praised by players and the sport's administrators.
Benaud, 84, died Friday at a Sydney hospice, surrounded by his wife, Daphne, and other family members. He had been fighting skin cancer since late last year.
Fans paid respect by placing bouquets of flowers under a bronze statue of Benaud in front of the Sydney Cricket Ground, while planning began for a state funeral which was offered to his family. The tributes spread to Lord's in London, the home of cricket, where a tweet from the Marylebone ground included a photo of its flag flying at half-staff.
A veteran of 63 test matches, Benaud played a pivotal role in the formation of World Series Cricket in the 1970s and was one of the world's most recognized 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.
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 played the game the right way.''
Another former Australian captain, Mark Taylor, said Benaud covered all the bases.
''I think that's what set him apart from a lot of people who came before him and probably after him, ''Taylor said. ''That he loved playing, he loved competing and he loved commentating and being involved in the game.''
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.''
''After Don Bradman, there has been no Australian player more famous or more influential than Richie Benaud,'' Edwards said. ''Richie stood at the top of the game throughout his rich life, first as a record-breaking leg-spinner and captain, and then as cricket's most famous broadcaster who became the iconic voice of our summer.''
Giles Clarke, chairman of the England and Wales Cricket Board, said the sport had lost ''perhaps its greatest advocate and someone who was a true giant of the modern game.''
ICC chief executive David Richardson called Benaud ''a true legend, charismatic ... but always the perfect sportsman and gentleman.''
Former England opening batsman and later commentator Geoffrey Boycott tweeted: ''Farewell Richie Benaud. Wonderful cricketer, great captain, a master craftsman commentator & top man. Will always be remembered and admired.''
Indian great Sachin Tendulkar said on Twitter he ''fondly'' remembered having a discussion with Benaud and Shane Warne ''on the art of leg spin ... great loss to the world of cricket. Heartfelt condolences to Richie's family and friends.'''
Pakistan Cricket Board chairman Shaharyar Khan said ''the `Captain Cavalier' and the `Voice of Cricket' shall be missed in Pakistan as much as anywhere else.''
''The Pakistanis of my vintage remember him from the early 1960s when he brought an Australian team to Pakistan as its skipper,'' Khan said. ''He was an intense but fair competitor. Those from the latter generations shall recall his voice on radio and on television, its richness and analytical depth, passion and candor making him the standout amongst the best of the best.''
Warne took to Instagram to post a photo of an introspective Benaud, along with the words: ''I've known you & Daphne for close to 30 years & to everyone you were a legend on all levels & rightly so too. As a cricketer, commentator & as a person, you were the best there's ever been.''
Billy Birmingham, an Australian songwriter and comic who made a career from impersonating Benaud and other commentators in his Twelfth Man recordings, said he was: ''Very sad. Quite nauseous, actually. Struggling to find the right words. Disoriented.''
''Incomparable, irreplaceable, the one and only.''
AP Sports Writers Steve Douglas and Rizwan Ali contributed.