Bennett turns misery to delight
The man who dismissed Virat Kohli, arguably the most crucial Indian wicket in a chase, in Auckland is said to have an awkward action. But to limit Hamish Bennett's approach to the crease as just that would be an understatement. As jerky, open-chested and high-armed his delivery style is, Tim Southee described it best as "hard on the body," before the Auckland ODI.
So hard that Bennett's had screws and titanium wire put in his back to keep it from breaking. So hard that a bone was growing into his spinal cord. So hard that his debut Test in 2010 against India in Ahmedabad, which also ended in injury, was also his last first-class match for more than three years.
Somehow, Bennett came through it all. Still in one piece. He returned to the Plunket Shield last November and picked up 24 wickets in five games, the most this season, at 23.12. Adam Milne's break down in Napier paved way for Bennett's comeback to the New Zealand one-day squad. The last time he'd played for his country was in the 2011 World Cup. He wasn't going to play in Hamilton but was set to in Auckland.
When he came on to bowl, India's openers had put on 45 in seven overs. Bennett's first over went for 10. Facing him in his second was ODI batting machine Kohli, who had made 123 and 78 in Napier and Hamilton. But Bennett put to rest the frustration of years past with a quick, disciplined burst which nailed one of the best batsmen in the world.
Bennett bowled two successive maidens to Kohli before getting him in his next over. For 15 deliveries on the trot, Kohli wasn't allowed to do what he loves to: get right forward and feel the ball on his bat. Bennett, bustling in clumsily, was just outside off stump and was as nagging with his length, keeping it just short of good. Kohli could neither pull, nor could he drive. He pushed down the ground once, during the first maiden, but Bennett, for all his awkwardness, was down in time to stop it and deny Kohli.
"I thought tonight he bowled brilliantly," said Brendon McCullum. "That wicket of Kohli had a great sequence leading up to it as well. I thought he bowled outstandingly well a couple of overs to him to keep him scoreless and obviously to get the wicket as well was great. He was pretty chuffed at how it went today and we have to make sure he is okay for the next game."
Bennett beat Kohli with the first ball of the second maiden. The thing that separates Kohli from many other young India batsmen is his patience early on. He left a few with absolute calm. Bennett made him play with shortish ones angled in. Kohli pushed them softly from the crease to point, still getting nothing to stride forward and punch.
Two balls before he fell, Kohli defended off the back foot again and almost played on. Fortunately, the ball bounced over the stumps. Bennett had managed to ruffle Kohli and the next ball was inside-edged tentatively too. Then came the wicket ball. Seeing it a shade fuller, Kohli lunged forward to find release with the drive but could only nick it behind.
Bennett's celebration was a combination of a jump, pumped fists and a full-blooded roar. And he kept roaring. All the time spent under the surgeon's knife and in the recovery ward, unable to do what he was used to doing, would have floated in front of him.
"I'm just excited to get an opportunity, playing the No. 1 ranked team with their batting line-up ... all those times when you're on the couch and hating life and hating your body, this is what it all builds up to," Bennet said when he was picked as Milne's replacement.
McCullum knew his bowler had done something special after undergoing excruciating times. In a match where his fellow quick bowlers went for more than six an over, Bennett's analysis was 10-2-41-2. "It's a great story. He was lying on his back for six weeks after his back operation," McCullum said. "And after he bowled his first ball tonight, he said it was all worth it. It was a pretty nice feeling, seeing a guy who has gone through that to be able to make his way back. Delighted for him.
It will be "hard on the body" again as this tense series continues but worth all the strain for Bennett.
Abhishek Purohit is a sub-editor at ESPNcricinfo