By Harvey Stevens
Chris Benjamin would be the first to tell you that the last three weeks have been a bit of a ‘whirlwind’ for him. He has been snapped up by the Birmingham Phoenix for The Hundred, just weeks after signing his first rookie contract with Warwickshire.
It was a hugely impressive 60 runs from 34 balls in his T20 debut for Birmingham Bears in the Vitality Blast which alerted the Phoenix to Benjamin’s ability. But not even the South-African born batsman was expecting it to lead to a Hundred call up so soon.
“I found out I had been picked by the Phoenix as a replacement for Adam Hose which was incredible news, I couldn’t believe it. I almost thought it was a joke at first! It was very special.”
Lining up in their first game of the competition against the London Spirt, Benjamin thrust himself into the national spotlight with a match-winning 24 runs off 15 balls. After over a year without having spectators at sport, doing it in front of a full stadium made it extra special.
“To have been selected for the first game in The Hundred was awesome and then to get a chance to win the game was fantastic. I thought it was a great opportunity to go and entertain people and I really enjoyed that challenge.”
One of the most exciting aspects of his meteoric rise has been the opportunity to play with some of international cricket’s superstars. He’s relishing the opportunity to learn from some of the best players in the world whilst playing alongside them.
“When I first found out that I was being picked by the Phoenix my initial reaction was that this is going to be a great opportunity to share the dressing room with the likes of Mooen Ali, Liam Livingstone and Imran Tahir and just learn from them. They’ve obviously played international cricket around the world so it is a fantastic learning opportunity.”
England all-rounder Ali was impressed with Benjamin whilst coming up against him for Worcestershire, and played an important role in the rookie’s Hundred call up. Having a player of his stature supporting Benjamin as his captain has given him an extra boost of confidence.
“Mo has said a lot to the batsmen about being brave, playing positively and playing the way you’ve played to get into the team. So knowing you’ve got the backing from your captain and someone who’s done it all like he has gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and play your way and have some fun really.”
And since his Hundred debut Ali has heaped praise upon the twenty-two year old in the media, even drawing comparisons with England star Jos Buttler. Former England captains Kevin Pietersen and Nasser Hussain, who were covering his debut for Sky Sports, also expressed their admiration for Benjamin.
“To have the likes of Mo and KP singing your praise and backing you really gives you a lot of confidence to go out there and play the way you’ve done.”
To top off a whirlwind couple of weeks on the cricket pitch, Benjamin has also graduated from Durham with a first in accounting and finance. After a successful university cricket career, he highlights the pedigree of cricket at Durham as a key phase in his development.
“I absolutely loved it. To be able to combine a really good degree and playing cricket at a high level is what drew me there in the first place. It was a massive stepping stone for myself. In first year, the games were still counted as first-class games so obviously that was awesome to make my first-class debut. To play at grounds like the Oval and Headingley are special moments in a career.
“I would say that the confidence I got from doing really well at university level made it easier to come into the county game and just back myself to be nice and positive and play the ball as it comes.”
It’s still so early in the youngster’s career, but the sky really is the limit. The last few weeks have been an astonishingly quick introduction to the professional game, and Benjamin wants this to continue.
His focus now is on establishing himself in the white ball game this summer with both Warwickshire and the Phoenix, before trying to break into the red ball game as well.
“Hopefully we can finish the season strong with Warwickshire, we’re in the quarter-finals of the T20 blast. It will be great to win that come finals day at Edgbaston. That would be epic to be a part of. It’s something I have always watched and dreamed of being involved in with that many people watching, so that would be a very special day to be involved with.
“Then I would love to get myself into the red ball team with Warwickshire. Playing test cricket has always been a dream and although white ball has obviously gone really well the last month or so, red ball is very important to myself. Then hopefully get a longer term deal with Warwickshire.”
Image: Chris Benjamin