Richie Benaud dies at 84: state funeral for 'great Australian'
Under his captaincy Australia never lost a series – but he won English hearts as a BBC commentator
Richie Benaud, one of the great captains of Australian cricket and a brilliant commentator who combined acute analysis with an inimitable delivery, has died at the age of 84.
He died peacefully in his sleep on Thursday after revealing in November last year that he was suffering from skin cancer. Within hours of Benaud's death, the Australian government offered a state funeral with Prime Minister Tony Abbott declaring: "He certainly will be very, very much missed. He was a very, very effective cricketer, a great captain, a great character and great personality… This is the greatest loss for cricket since the loss of Don Bradman."
Born into a cricketing family in Penrith, New South Wales in 1930, Benaud was schooled in the art of leg-spin bowling by his father but it was as a specialist batsman that he made his first-class debut, paying for his home state against Queensland in January 1949.
Three years later Benaud, by now an all-rounder, made his Test debut for Australia against the West Indies, the first of 63 caps for his country. Initially unremarkable in the Test arena, Benaud's breakthrough season was in 1957-58 when, in a series in South Africa, he took 106 wickets and scored 817 runs – including four centuries.
His reading of the game and his ability to articulate this understanding to others led the selectors to appoint Benaud captain of Australia at the start of the 1958-59 season. It was an inspired choice and under his leadership Australia never lost a series as they became the dominant power in the game.
In 1963 Benaud became the first player to achieve the Test match 'double' of 2,000 runs and 200 wickets and when he retired from international cricket in 1964 he had scored 2,201 runs in 63 Tests, and claimed 248 wickets at an average of 27.03.
Having excelled as a player, Benaud then established himself as a superb commentator and journalist, working in the Australian summer for Nine TV network, and then heading to England to work for the BBC Test Match commentary team. "Richie Benaud's passing has robbed us not only of a national treasure, but a lovely man," said Nine chief executive David Gyngell, who described Benaud as a journalist who "earned the profound and lasting respect of everyone across the world of cricket".
As well as becoming the voice of cricket commentary, Benaud authored more than a dozen books on the sport and was awarded an OBE for services to cricket in 1961. More recently he was inducted into the International Cricket Council's Hall of Fame in 2009.
"He was quite simply peerless," explained BBC Test Match Special commentator Jonathan Agnew. "Richie's basic premise was not to speak unless he could add something to the television pictures… 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."