Posted by: tootingtrumpet | March 10, 2021

Joey Benjamin – 2 February 1961 – 8 March 2021

Unlike his near-contemporary namesakes, Winston and Kenny, the unrelated Antiguans, Joey Benjamin was not quick nor would he have fitted into the West Indian mean machine still terrorising batsmen all over the world. Somehow the St Kitts born outswing merchant had the demeanour of someone pleased to be playing cricket, pleased to be given choice of ends, pleased with the recognition that came late in his career. His sole England cap came in a match in which another bowler who gave every impression of enjoying his time with ball in hand wrote himself into the record books with an enduring quote and 9-57.

Benjamin’s first innings 4-47 was forgotten in the wake of Devon Malcolm’s “You Guys Are History” whirlwind of South African wickets, but sending back Hansie Cronje, Kepler Wessels, Dave Richardson and Craig Matthews was enough to catch the eye of even the most myopic of 90s selection panels and, at 33, Joey was off on an Ashes Tour. A bout of chickenpox put him out of the first Test and the selectors, ever capricious, never awarded him a second cap, though he did play a couple of ODIs.

It may have been a blessing in disguise, as Michael Slater set the tone for the series smashing Phil DeFreitas’s first ball to the point boundary, three big Australian wins retaining The Ashes, as England cycled through six seamers in the five matches. Because, for all of his Caribbean heritage, Benjamin always looked like what he was – a fine bowler with plenty of craft picked up in Midlands league cricket, who lacked the bounce required for the Australia’s hard pitches and swing unfriendly conditions. In other words, a classic English fast-medium pacer.

He had honed those league skills filling in at Warwickshire but really came to the fore at The Oval, where, already into his 30s, he found friends in the dressing room and success in the middle, Eight consistent summers brought him 459 wickets at about 30, the kind of numbers that nails down a place in the XI without necessarily winning trophies. He left the county in 1999 just as Adam Hollioake was to inject the swagger that did bring trophies.

Gone at just 60 while still working at Reigate Grammar School, Joey Benjamin’s life in cricket was one perhaps only possible in England – a county pro who got lucky with a shot at the big time, then unlucky in not getting a second go, but made a living on the domestic circuit and found the camaraderie every ex-sportsperson needs by staying close to the club for whom he played. To those of us looking on from outside the rope, he gave everything swinging the ball or swinging the bat, and we respected him for that.

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