Richie Benaud: The doyen of commentators - a true one-off

By Jonathan AgnewBBC cricket correspondent
Richie Benaud
Richie Benaud captained Australia in 28 of his 63 Tests, lifted the Ashes three times and spent more than 50 years as a broadcaster

Richie Benaud was the doyen of cricket commentators.

He was quite simply peerless. Nobody else had his authority, popularity and skill.

If you speak to any broadcaster from any sport, they will point to Richie as the standard-bearer.

He had this unique style - the choice of words, how he delivered them, the way he looked - and it all came together to make him one of the most recognisable people on television.

His incredible knack was knowing what to say and when to say it - usually as briefly as possible.

Richie's basic premise was not to speak unless he could add something to the television pictures.

BBC Radio 5 live pays tribute to Richie Benaud

Richie Benaud fans
The unmistakeable Richie Benaud has become a cult figure for fans

He was brilliant at saying just what was required and you knew that with Richie at the microphone the broadcast was complete.

The cream jacket, the steely grey hair and his clipped voice made him a mimic's dream. Rory Bremner and company had an easy job.

But his gravitas meant he became an icon among fans, myself included.

He was the face of my childhood and for millions of others. He was cricket on the TV in England. He was our Richie - and that is the ultimate compliment for an Australian.

Richie Benaud: a legend remembered

For my generation of commentators coming through, he was the man.

I had the privilege of working with him for BBC TV at the 1999 World Cup, when he was my rock.

As a radio commentator, I was a novice on TV and anxious about presenting with him. My first programme was a shambles. I missed the countdown to zero in my ear from the producer and was still talking as the show ended.

The next time, Richie simply asked me how long I needed for my final comments. I added them up to seven seconds. Every time we were on air from then onwards, he stopped talking at eight seconds and let me sign off on the button. He was so good that he could edit his own comments down in his head to the precise second.

I never saw him as anything but unflappable. He was the face of calm. No matter what chaos was going on in the background - and there is plenty during a live broadcast - as long as Richie was at the helm, you knew that everything would be fine.

He was a natural in front of the camera, but you also could learn so much from his discipline, preparation and application.

As a trainee journalist with the BBC while he was still an international player, he was knocking on doors asking for quotes, conducting interviews or writing obituaries. How many commentators have done that?

Benaud the player
Tests: 63As captain: 28
Runs: 2,201Batting average: 24.45
Centuries: 3Highest score: 122
Wickets: 248Bowling average: 27.03
As captain: won 12, drew 11, lost 4, tied 1Never lost a series as captain

When he was writing for the News of the World, he may have had only 300 words to file. Yet he was still the first person in the press box every day, poring over his notes. He took his work incredibly seriously.

Interestingly, Richie the broadcaster - so disciplined, so self-restrained - was quite a contrast to Richie the player - a daring, dashing captain who loved taking chances. He was a typical leg-spinner, tossing up a bit of bait to the batsmen.

Away from the microphone, he was always fine company.

Although not a back-slapping and laugh-a-minute kind of guy, he was kind, generous and simply loved talking about the game.

Brian Johnston, the late Test Match Special commentator, held a birthday party at his house in London during the Lord's Test every year and I will always remember simply sitting in the garden chatting about cricket with Richie. It was invariably a pleasure.

You never heard him say the game was better in his day. He was a great moderniser and a key figure in the start of World Series Cricket, which revolutionised the sport in the 1970s and 1980s.

Richie Benaud fans
Home supporters pay tribute to Richie Benaud during his final commentary game in England, during the 2005 Ashes

He could give strident opinions when he had to. He hated bad behaviour on the field and described the infamous underarm ball which gave Australia victory over New Zealand in a one-day international in 1981 as "one of the worst things I have ever seen on a cricket field".

Whenever Richie spoke, whether it was on TV or not, you listened.

The fact he was still broadcasting until the age of 83 was extraordinary.

It is only a shame he did not get the send-off he deserved - the game of cricket has not had a chance to say goodbye.

Knowing Richie, he would have taken it in an embarrassed, humble sort of way with as little fanfare as possible. That was the type of man he was.

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.