Lead image: Roy Smiljanix, Warwickshire CCC
Jo Harman introduces Chris Benjamin who, just days on from his professional T20 debut, has landed a gig at The Hundred.
Who is he?
A 22-year-old keeper-batsman who hits a long ball, Chris Benjamin blitzed 60* from 34 balls on his professional T20 debut at the weekend, an innings which laid the platform for Birmingham Bears’ victory over Northants, securing his team a place in the Blast quarter-finals. So impressive was the knock that it earned the youngster – who only this month signed a rookie contract with Warwickshire – a gig in The Hundred with Birmingham Phoenix, making him the least experienced player in the men’s competition. “It’s been a whirlwind week,” Benjamin told Wisden.com.
Where’s he come from?
Johannesburg, originally, but he has a UK passport through his father, who was born in Hampstead, London, and he qualifies as a local player in county cricket. Benjamin moved to the UK in 2018 to pursue his dream of becoming a professional cricketer, while also studying at Durham University. Playing for Cambridge CC in the East Anglian Premier League he quickly grabbed the attention of Essex, where he impressed on trial but was overlooked in favour of homegrown stumpers Michael Pepper and Will Buttleman. He also represented Durham MCCU, making his first-class debut in 2019 against Durham at Chester-le-Street – scoring a second-innings 33 before being castled by Chris Rushworth – and skippered the side in his final year.
The next step?
Benjamin caught the eye of Warwickshire’s second-team coach Ian Westwood during an ECB trials day at Loughborough in 2019 but Covid-related issues meant he didn’t arrive at Edgbaston until the start of this season. His aggressive strokeplay made an instant impression and he captained the Bears to victory at Second XI Trophy Finals Day.
In June he smashed an incredible 149 from 66 balls for Warwickshire’s second XI in a T20 against Glamorgan at Newport, hitting 12 fours and 10 sixes. “That was definitely a big knock in my career,” he says, “but the one 10 days before, when I got 95 not out from 40-odd balls, was just as important. That was my first big score for Warwickshire and from what I’ve heard it was also important in getting this Hundred gig because Moeen Ali [Birmingham Phoenix captain] was playing for Worcestershire and he saw me play and how I’ve been playing spin.” Those innings also paved the way for his T20 debut for Warwickshire, which he says was assisted by acting as a runner for Adam Hose before it was his turn to bat. “Going out as a runner definitely helped,” he adds. “It allowed me to experience the atmosphere, the crowd, to see how the wicket was playing. By the time I came to face my first ball there were hardly any nerves actually, it felt like I’d been batting for about 10 overs with all the running I’d done.”
What’s his style?
Growing up in South Africa, Benjamin says he was brought up on a diet of red-ball cricket, and it’s only in the last few years that he’s started to expand his repertoire of shots. He now looks readymade for T20. His set-up – crouched, cocked wrists – is reminiscent of Jos Buttler, and he is capable of scoring runs all around the wicket. On his T20 debut he reverse-swept the first delivery he faced for four.
Off the park?
Benjamin has recently completed a degree in accounting and finance at Durham Uni. “I was pretty chuffed with that,” he says. “I do enjoy the academic side of things but that was more to have a degree to fall back on if cricket didn’t quite fall into place. The way things have turned out, I couldn’t have really planned it any better.”
Benjamin hopes his future lies with Warwickshire and he is determined to nail down a first-team spot across all formats, insisting “red-ball cricket is very, very important to me”. With the club’s incumbent gloveman Michael Burgess having recently signed a new contract, and Alex Davies joining from Lancashire next season, he will likely have to settle for a spot as a specialist batsman for the time being, but he says he has no intention of letting his wicketkeeping slip.
“Whilst he is still very young, we want to build a squad that can grow together and consistently challenge for The Hundred title year after year. Chris has a great chance to make an immediate impression and be part of this squad for a long time” – Dan Vettori, Birmingham Phoenix men’s head coach