By David Leggat
It’s been a cracking start to the year for Hamish Bennett, and he’s got more to look forward to with the arrival of the Indian team for their nine-match tour of New Zealand.
First off, the 32-year-old seamer was recalled to a BLACKCAPS squad almost three years after the last of his 16 ODIs.
Then on Sunday he was an integral part of the Wellington team which lifted the Dream 11 Super Smash title, taking three for 34 in the 22-run win over the Auckland Aces at the Basin Reserve.
That took him to a table-topping 17 wickets at a classy 17.18 apiece. Add in that in the entire competition just two bowlers managed a maiden – Wellington teammate Logan van Beek and Bennett.
If you go by the old standard of picking players when in form, this is a prime example of that principle in action.
Some will argue he might not have won his recall had Trent Boult and/or Lockie Ferguson or Matt Henry been fit.
That’s beside the point, which is that Bennett had made himself the go-to pick as next cab off the rank if a vacancy arose. It did, and he’s in, and can’t wait for the opening game in the five-match Kent RO T20 series at Eden Park on Friday night.
"I’d never given up on playing for New Zealand. I don’t think anyone does,’’ Bennett said.
"You just have to keep plugging away. For me, I just enjoy playing cricket. I don’t live and die by New Zealand selections, but I’m still trying to be the best cricketer I can be.’’
Bennett, born in Timaru, switched from Canterbury to Wellington for a change of scene and a fresh challenge in time for the 2016-17 season after 11 summers with Canterbury.
He has a wealth of experience to call on – his 75 first-class games have produced 255 wickets at 28.1 – and has high praise for former test opener Bruce Edgar, who was in charge of Wellington when Bennett arrived.
"He put a lot of responsibility on me. I told him the sort of cricketer I’d love to be and he really encouraged me to go out and do that.’’
Stints as bowling coach with a range of Wellington teams helped him "learn about cricket and how people tick’’. Mentoring younger players enabled him to reflect on his own bowling which he found ‘’a way to keep myself in check’’.
His one Test was against India at Ahmedabad in 2010, a draw in which Kane Williamson hit his maiden test century on debut.
In his 16 ODIs, Bennett took 27 wickets at 23 each, spread over almost seven years. Untimely injuries didn’t help, and at times neither did the vagaries of selection.
But with India arriving, the selectors may have recalled a special moment in Bennett’s career.
He played in the tied ODI at Eden Park in January 2014. At one point in India’s innings, Bennett bowled 16 balls at champion batsman Virat Kohli. He conceded a solitary single, then had him caught behind with a peach of a ball for six.
It was a brilliant one-on-one matchup and the sort of moment Bennett has reflected on from time to time since.
"Whenever I doubted myself, or was injured, you go back and look at past performances and know you are good enough. Little things you hold onto through your career which give you belief to carry on.’’
He quipped that he remembers the blunt advice of former South African fast bowling great Allan Donald from his time as the BLACKCAPS bowling coach.
"I still talk to ‘AD’ and a lot of his words still ring true to me today. If I am a bit stiff or sore I can still hear his voice in my head telling me to effing run in and not give up.’’
Bennett’s selection is also a handy reference point to New Zealand’s domestic cricket scene. Those who maintain the gulf is huge between domestic and international cricket might get an argument from Bennett.
He accepts there should be a step up "but people underestimate the standard of our domestic cricket. Guys just need exposure’’.
Bennett pointed out that given the amount invested in the likes of the Big Bash League or the Indian Premier League "the product always looks a bit better, but if you look at the cricket it’s not that far off’’.
As for players’ age being relevant, Bennett’s view is it shouldn’t be a concern when it comes to selection.
"It should be that if you’re good enough, then you’re good enough, and the advantage of picking older guys is they know their game.
"We might go rotten a little faster than some of the other fruit on the shelf but at least we know our game, we back ourselves and should be confident because we know our skill sets.’’
He cited the selection of off-spinner Will Somerville for the Black Caps two years ago at 34 as proving the point about not giving up.
"Will went to the New Zealand Academy in 2005. We’re good friends. His selection definitely gave me some hope as well. He’s older than me and looks like it as well,’’ he quipped.
"But he knows his game and whenever he’s played he’s performed pretty well.
"It shows that in domestic cricket, learning your trade, and knowing your game, that’s a good trait to have.’’