Australia offers state funeral for Richie Benaud

A file picture dated 5 February 2007 shows Australian cricket legend Richie Benaud giving a speech at the 2007 Allan Border Medal ceremony in Melbourne, Australia Image copyright EPA
Image caption Australian Prime Minister Tony Abbott said Richie Benaud would be hugely missed

The Australian government has offered a state funeral to the family of former Australian cricket captain and legendary cricket commentator Richie Benaud, who has died aged 84.

Mr Benaud's family said he died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday.

Prime Minister Tony Abbott said there would hardly be an Australian over the past 40 years who hadn't listened to Mr Benaud on radio or television.

"He certainly will be very, very much missed," he said on Friday.

"He was a very, very effective cricketer, a great captain, a great character and great personality."

Benaud was born in Penrith, outside Sydney. All flags on New South Wales government buildings and establishments including the Sydney Harbour Bridge will be lowered to half-mast today.

Mr Benaud's former employer, the Nine TV network, said his popularity extended well beyond the cricket community.

"Richie Benaud's passing has robbed us not only of a national treasure, but a lovely man," said Nine Chief Executive David Gyngell.

"Richie earned the profound and lasting respect of everyone across the world of cricket and beyond, first as an outstanding player and captain, then as an incomparable commentator, and through it all as a wonderful human being," said Mr Gyngell in a statement.

BBC Radio 5 live pays tribute to Richie Benaud

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Media captionBill Lawry: "Richie was a wonderful example as a commentator and as a Test captain"

'Good bloke'

As a sports commentator, Mr Benaud was almost as well known for his smart cream, beige and white jackets as he was for his straight-forward, no-nonsense commentating.

Combined with his steely grey hair and crisp accent he was an easy target for comedians but drew a loyal following of fans who created a club called "The Richies", who would turn up to cricket matches wearing Benaud-styled wigs, jackets and microphones.

Nine's Head of Sport, Steve Crawley, said people didn't have to know Mr Benaud to love him.

"We will miss him the way you miss loved ones," said Mr Crawley. "And at the same time we will thank our lucky stars he came our way at all."

Former Australian captain Bill Lawry told the BBC Benaud set a standard both as a player and a broadcaster. "On the field he led by example... he was a brilliant fielder and a hard-hitting lower-order batsman."

Another former Australian cricket captain and coach Bob Simpson said even though people knew Mr Benaud was suffering from skin cancer, it was still a shock to learn he had died.

"He dominated cricket for about 15 years," said Mr Simpson.

"He was a good bloke, he really was. Sometimes you thought he had a few airs and graces but he was just a fantastic person."

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