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Austrialian cricket legend Richie Benaud dead at 84

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Former Australian cricket captain and legendary commentator Richie Benaud has died in Sydney after a long illness, at the age of 84.

(AP) — The cricket world mourned the death of former Australia captain and pioneering television commentator Richie Benaud on Friday as he was described as a “national treasure” and praised by players and the sport’s administrators.

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.

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. “Richie earned the profound and lasting respect of everyone across the world of cricket and beyond.”

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 in a statement. “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.”

“Richie was a marvelously talented cricketer who in the early part of his career gave much to the Australian team as a player and a leader,” Giles added. “But he will always, above all, be remembered as one of cricket’s most influential and authoritative voices; a supremely gifted broadcaster, journalist and author.”

ICC chief executive David Richardson called Benaud “a true legend, charismatic … but always the perfect sportsman and gentleman.”

Benaud’s witty observations — he once described Glenn McGrath as being dismissed “just 98 runs short of a century” — and elongated vowel pronunciations were affectionately impersonated by fans the world over.

On Twitter, McGrath said “very sad news … We’ve lost a true Aussie icon.” Australia coach Darren Lehmann added: “RIP one of the game’s all-time greats! He will be missed by the whole cricketing world.”

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”’

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, who made a career from impersonating Benaud and other commentators in his comic Twelfth Man recordings, said he was: “Very sad. Quite nauseous, actually. Struggling to find the right words. Disoriented.”

“Incomparable, irreplaceable, the one and only.”

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