Big Benn shows his big value
Sulieman Benn is intimidating. At 6 foot 7 inches he ought to be. If you can stare Joel Garner in the eye, tower over Chris Gayle, you must be intimidating. That is Benn the beanpole.
With that height, the life of a hostile, snarling fast bowler would not have been a bad fit. Instead, though, it has been a career forged through left-arm spin. For periods he can seem more innocuous than intimidating. But there are days he can hurt you. And he can do it quietly.
Once in Adelaide, in 2009, having taken a 5-for in a Test match against Australia, and having bowled a marathon 53 overs, Benn was asked how he, thin as "rain drop", manage to endure such long spells. "It is muscle, but it is hidden" Benn replied tongue-in-cheek with a soft chuckle.
Benn showed that muscle on Sunday evening when he quietly dominated the Sri Lanka batsmen with accuracy, control and a little bit of spine. Samuel Badree did what he does so often: bowl in the first 10 overs, make use of the new ball, deceive the batsmen with his fast-ish deliveries and wrap up his four overs in a blink of an eye. A return of 4-0-12-3 was no doubt the match-winning spell.
Yet Badree had finished his spell by the ninth over. Sri Lanka's top and middle order might have disappointed, but Angelo Mathews was at the crease. He had arrived in the first over after the Powerplay and was trying to repair the early damage. More than Thisara Perera, West Indies would have wanted Mathews out of the way because he had the ability to right the wrongs of the earlier batsmen, all of whom, barring Tillakaratne Dilshan, did not have much to defend themselves with.
Sensing the danger Darren Sammy brought back Benn, who had bowled a tight first over that went for a solitary run. That was the third over of the Sri Lanka innings which broke the early momentum built by Dilshan. Sri Lanka were 19 for 0 after two overs. Against Dilshan, Benn stuck to a line outside off stump and the batsman kept hitting to the cover fielder. Against Dinesh Chandimal, Benn fired in the fuller, faster ones, denying the batsman any space or runs.
Against Mathews, too, Benn had a plan: attack the off stump, keep the length full, offer no width whatsoever. Mathews managed to collect just two runs off five balls. Benn stared Mathews down once again giving just one runs off five deliveries in his third over.
Returning for his final over Benn was well aware that Mathews would go for his shots. Sammy spoke to his bowler to remind him about the plans again, but Benn was fully in control of himself. He carried on suffocating Mathews.
Mathews is Sri Lanka's best batsman. To keep him quiet with spin is one thing, to beat him is another. Benn did that exactly at the start of his final over when he pitched a delivery on a luring length at off stump which spun sharply to leave Mathews prodding at thin air. Benn then went back to firing in the darts, cramping the batsmen for room. Mathews had managed just five runs from the 13 deliveries he faced from Benn.
"He bowled some real good yorkers," Mathews said with a smile. "I just couldn't get off strike and give it to Thisara. He was bowling really well. He was mixing up his pace. While we were lining up to hit him but he bowled some really good yorkers and got away with it."
Benn did not have a wicket to show for his discipline and dominance. He took his cap and walked towards short fine leg looking backward in the direction of Sammy, perhaps waiting for the acknowledgement. Sammy did not forget as he ran towards Benn and patted him on his back.
With his height Benn is very difficult to read and he can extract the bounce off the pitch. And on a wicket where the ball was gripping the surface Benn was unbeatable. In West Indies' first two matches of the tournament Benn has proved to be a good sidekick for Badree and helping ensure the absence of Sunil Narine is not being felt.
In this match Benn bowled three of his four overs in the middle segment of the innings. But with West Indies next two matches - against South Africa and Afghanistan - being played in Nagpur, where spin has proved very difficult to score off, it may not be a bad idea to try him in the death overs were Narine was so indomitable.
After hitting his whirlwind century against England, Chris Gayle had revealed it was Benn who asked him to entertain. This time it was Benn's turn to be the entertainer, albeit in a quiet fashion.
Nagraj Gollapudi is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo