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Obituaries

Joey Benjamin

Fast bowler came late to first-class cricket, but quickly made up for lost time

Joey Benjamin, the former Surrey and England seamer, April 15, 1998

Joey Benjamin, the former Surrey and England seamer  •  Getty Images

BENJAMIN, JOSEPH EMMANUEL, died of a heart attack on March 8, aged 60.
Fast bowler Joey Benjamin came late to first-class cricket, but quickly made up for lost time. In 1994, aged 33, he made his Test debut in the final match of the series against South Africa at The Oval, his home ground. He had an outstanding first day, walking off with four for 42, including Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels. "Bowling an admirably tight off-stump line and taking his wickets with balls of full length, he took his haul of firstclass wickets for the season to 75," wrote Christopher Martin-Jenkins in The Daily Telegraph. "I seriously thought I was dreaming," said Benjamin.
But with South Africa eight down, he was not given the ball next morning, and missed out on a five-for. In the second innings, he bowled 11 wicketless overs, as a rampaging Devon Malcolm took nine for 57. Still, Benjamin had done enough to earn a place on that winter's Ashes tour - a fitting end to his best season. With the Surrey seam attack beset by injuries, he bowled nearly 600 overs - "ploughing his lone furrow," said Wisden - and took 80 wickets at 20, finishing sixth in the first-class averages. "He carried our attack that summer," said fellow Surrey seamer Martin Bicknell. "He was outstanding."
In Australia, though, he had a miserable time. Benjamin and Malcolm, his room-mate, contracted chickenpox 48 hours before the First Test. He had played in three of England's four warm-up matches, but modest returns meant he probably wouldn't have been selected, and the management seemed to lose faith. He went two months without a first-class game, and a couple of one-day appearances, against Australia and Zimbabwe, were scant consolation.
Angus Fraser and Chris Lewis, who had both been flown out to bolster an injury-ravaged squad, were chosen ahead of him later in the series, and Benjamin returned angry and disillusioned. "I felt like I had been picked just to give our batsmen practice in the nets," he said. "By the end of the tour I was embarrassed to be there - people back home thought I had chickenpox for three months."
Born in St Kitts, Benjamin moved to the Midlands in the early 1970s. He played for Dudley in the Birmingham League, where he was coached by Ron Headley, who quickly spotted his potential. Headley's son, Dean, remembered picking up Benjamin at the family's sixth-floor flat; he would put his kit in the rubbish chute to avoid carrying it down the stairs. He first played for Staffordshire in 1986, and was offered a contract by Warwickshire two years later, making his first-class debut aged 27.
In 1990, he managed 43 wickets, but had limited opportunities the following season, and turned down a two-year contract to seek regular first-team cricket elsewhere. Five counties were interested, but Benjamin chose Surrey. He settled in straight away, although a sponsored car, newly emblazoned with his name, was quickly returned when the club discovered he couldn't drive. Off a run of 25 yards, he bowled at about 85mph. "He was such a skilful bowler," said Bicknell. "He had a great wrist position that helped him move the ball away from right-handers."
Benjamin was a member of the team that won the Sunday League in 1996, and the Benson and Hedges Cup the following year, although he did not play in the semi-final or final. Regardless, he was enormously popular in the dressing-room. "He treated everyone with respect," recalled Surrey captain Adam Hollioake. "Whether you were the prime minister, a security guard, a Surrey fan or a junior or senior player, he took people at face value."
Benjamin was a film buff with an encyclopaedic knowledge of cinema, and an avid reader. Although he eventually learned to drive, his team-mates usually found an excuse if offered a lift. He later played for Bromley, and Reigate Priory, and coached at Reigate Grammar School for over a decade. After his dream introduction to Test cricket, Benjamin was asked if he had any advice for players starting their career at 27. "If you're a bowler, don't," he said. "At that age, come in as a batsman."