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Benny Howell to remain with Melbourne Renegades after 'rollercoaster' first weekend

Allrounder's fortunes mirrored team in the Renegades' opening two games

Matt Roller
Matt Roller
Benny Howell initially signed for the first two games of the BBL season  •  Getty Images

Benny Howell initially signed for the first two games of the BBL season  •  Getty Images

Benny Howell is set to spend the rest of the Big Bash season with the Melbourne Renegades as international cover after a "rollercoaster" first weekend in the competition.
Howell, the Gloucestershire allrounder whose array of slower balls and consistent success in England's T20 Blast has won him a cult following, initially joined the side for the first two games of the season while Afghan imports Mohammad Nabi and Noor Ahmad underwent their quarantine period.
But he will now stay with the squad for at least the next three weeks, travelling as part of the BBL's hub to Canberra, the Gold Coast, Perth and Adelaide before returning to Melbourne in mid-January.
Rilee Rossouw, the South African middle-order batsman, is the only overseas player that the Renegades are expecting to have available for the full competition, with three permitted in a team's playing XI at any one time. Noor initially signed as cover for Imran Tahir, who will not be available until the New Year, while Imad Wasim is due to join the squad on Boxing Day. With Afghanistan's ODI series against Ireland in mid-January likely to provide further complications, Howell will stay with the squad and look to press his case for selection.
"I'll be around," Howell told ESPNcricinfo. "I know Nabi and Noor are coming this week, but I'll see what happens. I'm sure Nabi will come straight in, but we'll see what happens in terms of the balance of the side and how they choose to go about it. If I play then great, but if not then I'll still be happy to do whatever I can to help out."
Howell's own fortunes mirrored those of the team in their first two games of the season. Bowling his unique brand of mystery medium pace, he impressed in the convincing win against Perth Scorchers - second-favourites with the bookies ahead of the competition's start - but struggled in the 145-run thrashing at the hands of defending champions Sydney Sixers on Sunday night.
"It was a bit of a rollercoaster weekend," he said. "We got the bad one out of the way early, but at least we got a win under our belts in the first game. It was always going to be hard playing back-to-back, not that it's any excuse.
"In the first game, the wicket was not at all conducive to cutters and offspinners. I literally just stuck to one of my knuckleballs, and it was natural variation from there. The second game didn't quite go to plan. I was disappointed with how I did, but I can't dwell on that too much."
In the defeat against the Sixers, in which they made the second-lowest score in the BBL's history, the Renegades leaked 205 in their 20 overs before losing three wickets in as many overs in the chase. At that stage, they decided to target the Bash Boost bonus point, which meant they needed to reach 76 by the end of the 10th over.
While they ultimately fell a long way short as wickets kept tumbling, Howell suggested that they had no regrets about the decision to keeping swinging.
"We didn't want to scrape up to 150 or 160; we wanted to at least go for the bonus point and if we'd got that, you never know, we could maybe have gone on. How often do you see teams chasing a really high score when they're 20 for 3 after three overs? If the 10-over score is chaseable, I don't see why not.
"You might look bad if it goes wrong and you're bowled out early, but you still lose the game, and at least you're trying to get something from it. I think it was the right decision, we just didn't execute at all well."
Howell's stint at the Renegades came about thanks in part to his relationship with head coach Michael Klinger, previously a team-mate at Gloucestershire, but had also been a long time coming. He spent the 2017-18 season on standby as injury cover without playing a game, and had been lined up for a stint last year before a hamstring tear ruled him out of the competition.
This year, he used his Australian passport to secure a club cricket spell in Victoria for Buckley Ridges CC, for whom he played a single game before the start of the BBL season. He may play for them again in January depending on the overseas situation at the Renegades, but after more than a year out due to injury and the pandemic, he is simply happy to be playing again.
After the Australian summer, Howell has half an eye on the T10 League in the UAE, and will put his name forward for the IPL auction, despite admitting he has no expectation of being picked up. "I'm just hoping to get a good run of games in when I get the chance and to perform well: so far, so good."

Matt Roller is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets at @mroller98