Firebird Hamish Bennett ready for his New Zealand rebirth

New Zealand

Hamish Bennett had made his Test debut along with Kane Williamson in 2010. He bolted into New Zealand’s World Cup squad the next year and later, in 2014, he gave Virat Kohli a proper workout in that tied ODI with his searing pace.

Bennett nailed the hard lengths and stopped Kohli from pulling or driving in a sequence of back-to-back maidens. Then, he had the batsman nicking off with a 143kph rocket that took off after landing on the pitch. Kohli v Bennett: 1 off 16 balls at a strike rate of 6.25.

Fast-forward to 2020: Williamson and Kohli are now international veterans and world beaters. Bennett, meanwhile, is preparing to make his T20I debut in the series opener against India at Eden Park – the scene of his incredible burst against Kohli.

This Kohli is a white-ball monster. These India players are, as Ross Taylor put it, rock stars. Former batting coach Craig McMillian calls them the real deal. New Zealand, though, are missing several of their first-choice seamers, including Lockie Ferguson, Trent Boult and Matt Henry. In their injury-enforced absence, they have turned back to Bennett, who is a also a changed cricketer.

He’s no longer a one-trick pony, who just bounces out batsmen. He has overcome multiple injuries and has transformed himself into a well-rounded white-ball bowler, and is currently the holder of both the 50-over Ford Trophy and the 20-over Super Smash titles.

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In the final against Auckland Aces earlier this week, where the Wellington Firebirds were defending 168, he began his spell in the Powerplay with a brace of lifters, having Martin Guptill ducking and weaving. Then, when Bennett missed his lengths and went too full, Guptill planted his front leg and cracked him for a brace of fours.

Having conceded 11 runs in his opening over, he came back strongly in his second, the fifth of the innings, and had Colin Munro nicking behind with a back-of-a-length delivery that seamed away. Guptill, though, settled down and rebuilt the innings with Craig Cachopa, pushing the Aces to 82 for 3 in the 12th over.

Bennett hit hard lengths once again and mixed it up with his offcutters to hike the required rate close to 12. One such offcutter, reared off the pitch and took the splice of Guptill’s bat before streaking away towards cover prompting the batsman to just see off the bowler’s third over.

With wickets falling around him, Guptill aimed to take the chase deep, but with the Aces needing 52 off 18 balls, he had to go for broke. And he happened to run into Bennett again. When Bennett bowled length and outside off, Guptill lined him up and smoked him over midwicket for six. Bennett went much fuller the next ball and Guptill helicoptered it, MS Dhoni-style, with his strong wrists. The ball seemed destined to sail over the midwicket boundary, until Logan van Beek pulled off a stunning relay catch. The wicket was down to van Beek’s brilliance at the edge of the boundary and some luck, but the pressure created by Bennett earlier had also played a part. The Aces’ gun batsman was gone for 60 off 53 balls. Game over for them.

All told, Bennett has been among the most consistent T20 bowlers in New Zealand over the past couple of seasons. He has 26 wickets in 20 games at an economy rate of 8.06. Kyle Jamieson (30 wickets), Mitchell McClenaghan (27), his Firebirds team-mate Ollie Newton (27), Ajaz Patel (27) and Blair Tickner (27), have picked up more wickets than him but they have come at greater cost. In this season alone, Bennett has bagged 17 wickets in 11 games at an economy rate of 7.20 and emerged as the leading wicket-taker.

He has also been in fine form in the Ford Trophy and has developed a reputation of being a bowling leader at Wellington, after a decade-long stint at Canterbury. The switch up north has switched his fortunes as well, and in the absence of Boult and co. Bennett is likely to shoulder the bowling load for New Zealand along with Southee.

“He has done extremely well in white-ball cricket for Wellington – not only the T20s but the one-day stuff as well,” Southee said of Bennett on Wednesday. “He has earned his recall and it has been a while and he knows his game now. He’s a little bit older and I’m sure he’s excited about the challenge and he probably is bowling as well as he has ever in his career. Pleased for him, [I’ve] played a bit of cricket [with him] when I was younger. So, nice to see him still trucking in and getting another opportunity.

“The environment is pretty good, the guys can come in and someone like Hamish, he feels comfortable when he comes in. And he’s able to be himself, which I think helps going forward in the field. You’re relaxed and if you feel welcome, then I guess it makes the transition easier out onto the field with your mates.”

Bennett doesn’t want to put too much pressure on himself and instead just wants to enjoy his cricket, a shift in mindset that gave him a second wind after moving to Wellington.

“I’d never given up on playing for New Zealand. I don’t think anyone does,” Bennett told the New Zealand Cricket website. “You just have to keep plugging away. For me, I just enjoy playing cricket. I don’t live and die by New Zealand selections, but I’m still trying to be the best cricketer I can be.”

Now, at 32, Bennett will have another crack at Kohli at Eden Park again, and a chance to find a second wind in his chequered international career.

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