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Bon Voyage, ‘Sir Richie’

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Tony Abbott’s ‘captain’s call’ to knight Prince Phillip almost cost the Liberal leader his prime ministership. According to former Australian fast bowler Rodney Hogg, there’s was only one man in Australia worthy of the honor.

“It should have been Sir Richie Benaud,” Hogg said.

“No cricketer can ever be a ‘Sir’ again now if Richie wasn’t … If you couldn’t make Richie Benaud a ‘Sir’ then no one deserves to.”

Cricket legend Richie Benaud dies aged 84
In pictures: vintage Benaud at his very best
Richie Benaud’s greatest moments on and off the field

His comments followed the cricket legend’s death on Friday, at the age of 84. He died in his sleep after a battle with skin cancer.

“I’ve met everyone there is to meet in the cricket world but when Richie was in the room everyone felt like a kid again, Hogg said.

“We all grew up with Richie, whether you’re 20 or you’re 80, everybody grew up with Richie.”

Benaud’s death marks the end of a season of towering highs and deep lows for fans of Australian cricket.

On-field success in the Test arena and, more recently, World Cup victory, have been almost overshadowed by twin losses that book-ended the summer.

At the start of the season, one of Australia’s most promising young batsmen, Phil Hughes, was killed on the pitch. Now, not even a fortnight after Michael Clarke’s boys won World Cup glory, Australia mourns its cricketing figurehead.

Here, we take a look at his life through the eyes of those who knew him and admired him.

Getty.
Richie Benaud was always a man who had time for everyone in cricket, from the top, right down to the bottom. Photo: Getty.

Horse racing fanatic

Richie’s composure in the commentary box was remarkable, particularly considering he managed to maintain his momentum while listening to the horse races.

According to his colleague and former Test wicketkeeper, Ian Healy, his commentary captain used to listen to the races while play was on.

Richie’s English commentary colleague Jack Bannister’s stories also suggest he was a racing tragic who loved a flutter.

“Every Saturday for the last 20 years, wherever we were in the world, we would ring each other up, pick a race and bet on it,” Bannister told the BBC.

“We’d keep a tally of the winners throughout the season and whoever lost would have to take each other and our wives out for dinner. I ended up paying for many more suppers than him. Even in the last few weeks, his wife Daphne would still ring through with the selections.”

Benaud was also a single-figure handicap golfer. Bannister and Benaud loved it so much the pair would sneak in 18 holes every morning before play at an Edgbaston Test match.

The ‘French connection’

When you think of the most revered figure of Australian Cricket, do you think of Beaulieu-sur-Mer, a seaside village on the French Riviera in between Nice and Monaco?

Probably not, but you should, because that was where Richie Benaud and his English wife Daphne loved to spend their free time.

In more recent years, the broadcaster and his wife would spend the off-season in their French apartment, between work commitments in Australia, Europe and the sub-continent.

A 2006 interview with the Benauds in English newspaper The Telegraph sheds light on his ‘French connection’.

The couple loved the food, scenery and weather of the Mediterranean location.

Benaud is also of French origin on his father’s side, via his great-grandfather, who was born in Bordeaux and moved to Australia in 1840.

A teacher to all

“Dear Jonathan,” Benaud writes in a letter to a budding 16-year-old spinner in 1996. “Thank you for your letter about spin bowling,”

“I have attached a sheet for left-handers. Your letter was timely because it was the first from a left-hander.

“It reminded me that there is a difference in coaching and not just in the fact that one youngster might bowl with the right hand and another with the left.”

Such was the breadth of his influence, he was just as happy giving advice to a junior part-timer as he was offering tutelage to the greatest ever spinner, Shane Warne, who payed tribute to Benaud in an Instagram post.

“For me it was an honour and a privilege to call you a close friend and mentor,” Warne wrote.

“The time you made for me as a young cricketer and leg spin bowler trying to make his way as an 18-year-old, your tips and advice along the journey meant so much.”

A style guru

Fairfax Media’s Executive Style editor Steve Colquhoun wrote that Benaud’s ‘trademark’ white jacket ensemble was an ‘immaculate’ piece of sartorial expertise.

His jacket was further immortalised in the satire of Billy Birmingham’s Twelfth Man. 

Even as a player, his popped collar and open shirt paired with tight and sleek hair styling was ‘gracefully’ pulled off according to Colquhoun.

AAP
Benaud carried a classy dress sense from the field to the fence. Photo: AAP

From Lords with love

The Ashes might be the mostly hotly contested sporting contest involving Australia, but even rivals England admired Benaud like one of their own in tributes to the icon.

BBC cricket commentator Jonathan Agnew wrote that Richie was the ‘standard-bearer’ for any sport broadcaster while Scyld Berry from The Telegraph said he was “inimitable”.

Even John Ethridge in The Sun (a newspaper known for drumming up anti-Baggy Green passion) lauded Benaud’s worldly appeal by simply stating it was, “Benaud’s work as a TV commentator that brought him global recognition and affection.”

‘Richie Time’ at 2:22pm Friday April 10, 2015

At 2:22pm on the day Benaud passed away, social media started a push for a minute’s silence during the 60 seconds on the clock marked by the number he enunciated so uniquely.

The number two, or as Richie said it – chheeyyewww – was one of his greatest idiosyncrasies, parodied by professional impersonators like Billy Birmingham and amateurs alike.

Greg Chappell told Cricket Australia about the first time a Birmingham-style impression of Richie satire made its way into the Channel 9 commentary box.

During a Sheffield Shield match in Tasmania, Bill Lawry and Benaud were on air when the score ticked over to the famous 2-222.

Lawry couldn’t help himself and read the score in Richie’s distinct style.

Chappell said no one could commentate properly for the next two overs as the commentary box had descended into hysterics.

Lawry was also laughing, while Benaud looked down his microphone silently at his colleague.

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