AUSTRALIAN Prime Minister Tony Abbott has offered the family of Richie Benaud a state funeral after the death of the former Test captain and broadcaster at the age of 84.
Benaud made his name as a leg-spinner and middle-order batsman before moving into journalism and broadcasting, earning himself fans all over the world in the process.
The greatest cricket commentator of them all & a wonderful man.Piers Morgan
He moved into commentary on Channel Nine in Australia and the BBC and Channel Four in England before missing the 2013/14 Ashes series following a car accident.
Benaud had recently been undergoing treatment for skin cancer and passed away on Friday, leaving a wife, Daphne, and two sons from a previous marriage.
“There would be very few Australians who have not passed a summer in the company of Richie Benaud,” Abbott told a press conference in Brisbane shown by ABC News in Australia.
“He was the accompaniment of an Australian summer, his voice was even more present than the chirping of the cicadas in our suburbs and towns, and that voice, tragically, is now still.
“But we remember him with tremendous affection.
“He hasn’t just been the voice of cricket since the early 1960s, he was an extraordinarily successful Australian cricket captain.
“He led our country for five years in 28 Tests, and he never lost a Test series. He was the first cricketer to achieve the remarkable double of 2,000 Test runs and 200 Test wickets.
“This is the greatest loss for cricket since the loss of Don Bradman and for that reason I’m pleased to have offered the Benaud family a state funeral.”
Benaud will be remembered by millions for his measured, laconic brand of commentary and he was as revered in England, where he worked on television from 1963 to 2005, as he was in his homeland.
But he made his name in the game as a brilliant tactician and leg-spinning all-rounder.
He made 63 Test appearances in the Baggy Green of Australia, taking 248 wickets and scoring 2,201 runs in Tests.
Benaud collected many honours during his lengthy career on both sides of the boundary rope, including a place in the Australian Cricket and ICC Halls of Fame, a Wisden Cricketer of the Year award and an OBE from the Queen.
He suffered rib and vertebrae injuries in October 2013 when he drove his vintage 1963 Sunbeam Alpine into a garden wall in Coogee and was rehabilitating during the subsequent Ashes series - his first Australian summer out of the commentary box for decades.
A planned comeback just over a year later was then put on ice after he revealed he was undergoing treatment for melanomas on the forehead, scalp and neck.
The health implications of both issues combined to keep him away from the job he loved in his final years, but he made occasional pre-recorded appearances on Channel Nine and he rallied to record a moving tribute to Phillip Hughes when the Australia batsman died last year after being struck by a bouncer.
He began his media life while still a player, training with the BBC while on tour in England in 1956.
He worked avidly as a newspaper man, for many years with the News of the World, and later showed an instinctive knack for television work.
He commentated on the 1977 World Series Cricket, having been headhunted by Kerry Packer and continued setting a high bar for generations to follow.
Cricket Australia Chairman Wally Edwards paid tribute.
“Our country has lost a national treasure,” Edwards said.
“After Don Bradman, there has been no Australian player more famous or more influential than Richie Benaud.
“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.
“He was an important influence in the formation of Kerry Packer’s World Series Cricket in 1977, a climactic event at the time but one which has left a lasting, positive influence on the game.
“He became a favourite of the masses as the long-serving anchor of the Nine Network’s cricket coverage in Australia and the BBC and Channel Four in the UK. His crisp style, dry humour, understated delivery, and array of jackets made him one of the most loved personalities on television as he brought cricket to the lives of millions.
“Away from the camera he was a leader, mentor and positive influencer of an extraordinary number of cricketers.
“And despite his role as the treasured grandfather of the game, he remained deeply in touch with modern developments, embracing Twenty20 when others of older eras shunned it.
“His passing today marks a profound loss to our nation. Australian cricket and the game’s legions of fans extend deepest sympathies to Richie’s wife Daphne, brother John and the entire Benaud family at this sad time.”
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