Paul Edwards is a freelance cricket writer. He has written for the Times, ESPNcricinfo, Wisden, Southport Visiter and other publications
Warwickshire 259 for 3 (Benjamin 127, Hain 113*) vs Lancashire
Warwickshire selected both Dominic Sibley and Chris Benjamin in their team for this game and it was no surprise whatever that they did so. Sibley is his county's first-choice opener and Benjamin, after hitting fifties on debut in the Vitality Blast and Royal London Cup, is one of the young players of the year. Yet as meteorological autumn beckons and the long climax of the first-class season begins, cricketers of every stamp will look back on the past five months and reflect on how the summer has treated them. So let us consider Benjamin and Sibley.
For precisely 11 balls, between the dismissal of Rob Yates, caught at third slip by Rob Jones off Tom Bailey, and that of Sibley, who was lbw to the same bowler for 3, the pair batted together. One might suggest it was the only thing they had in common apart from their satisfaction at their side's utter dominance of a first day which ended with Warwickshire excellently placed on 259 for 3. One might even go further and argue their current careers are a microcosm of the splintered and increasingly specialised thing that is English domestic cricket. Whereas Sibley has played only red-ball cricket for county or country in 2021 Benjamin was making his debut for an Edgbaston-based side in a fourth format in little more than six weeks (Warwickshire in both the Royal London Cup and the County Championship, Birmingham Bears in the Blast and Birmingham Phoenix in the Hundred.)
The contrasts go deeper, of course. This has been a summer of achievement for Benjamin. It began in July when he was awarded a first in Finance and Accounting by Durham University. He was then given a rookie contract by Warwickshire and promptly made half-centuries in two competitions before also performing well when he was a late selection for the Hundred. So encouraged by all this were the Edgbaston coaches that last week Benjamin signed a three-year deal with Warwickshire and can now look forward to a secure future as a professional cricketer of whom much is expected. Sibley, who is a decent fellow, will surely be pleased by his team-mate's success but he may also offer a quiet warning that this game is a fickle mistress.
For the moment, though, the living is easy for Benjamin and something of his confidence - one might almost call it an expectation of success - was plain in his batting on this Bank Holiday Monday, when he shared a long and deeply secure partnership of 237 for the third wicket with Sam Hain. This alliance was particularly impressive given that it was so rarely endangered by Lancashire's bowlers. Saqib Mahmood, released by England to make room for Warwickshire's Chris Woakes, looked unthreatening, admittedly on an easy-paced pitch, until he took the second new ball and Benjamin top-edged a pull to Dane Vilas. By then, though, he had made 127 and his confident batting on his County Championship debut will rightly capture the headlines. The 22-year-old drives confidently and has a secure defence; his stand with Hain was filled with alert running between the wickets. Lancashire did not look like separating the pair until they did so.
The only slight shame of this day's cricket from a Warwickshire perspective is that Benjamin's batting will overshadow that of Hain, whose back-foot driving was one of the day's delights. For all that he is 26, Warwickshire's No. 4 seems something of a veteran in this side and it is difficult to credit that his unbeaten 113 was his first hundred since he made two in one match against Hampshire at the Rose Bowl in 2019. It will be one of the pleasures of the second morning to see if he can build on his fine innings and help Warwickshire to the sort of total that will leave Lancashire with little hope of winning the game.
Which leaves us with Sibley. "There is only one thing in the world worse than being talked about, and that is not being talked about," says Lord Henry Wotton in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Sibley would probably agree. A fortnight before he walked out to open Warwickshire's batting on this high-clouded morning at Emirates Old Trafford he was a current England cricketer and the punditry agreed he was not up to the job. A four-ball nought at Lord's settled matters and now no one is discussing him.
The former England fast bowler, John Snow, was discarded so often by the England selectors that he wrote a poem about it. And now Sibley, like Snow, has been left "wondering what to do, / knowing that it always happens / and now it happened to you". It was, then, a curious irony Sibley received his first ball from Saqib Mahmood who, until the end of the Lord's Test, was his colleague in the England squad. The Warwickshire batsman cut a disconsolate figure as he made his way off Old Trafford, where the final Test will begin in 11 days' time. Who recalled in that latest moment of dismissal that it was only just over a year ago that he had made a Test century against West Indies on this same ground?