Cricket: Bennett primed for test debut

By Martin Davidson

Strapping Canterbury fast bowler Hamish Bennett wants to be let loose on an unsuspecting Indian side when the first cricket test starts here on Thursday (1700 start NZT).

The 23-year-old rookie is in line to earn his first test cap in the most demanding of environments against an Indian batting lineup without peer in the modern game.

Bennett, a 1.90m, 98kg powderkeg on legs, will not know for sure whether he will partner Canterbury colleague Chris Martin with the new ball until captain Daniel Vettori confirms his playing 11 on the morning of the match at Sardar Patel Stadium.

But he should have been told already that the last test match played here a year ago was a benefit for the batsmen as India and Sri Lanka drew a high scoring affair after just 21 wicket fell for 1598 runs, with seven players helping themselves to centuries.

New Zealand drew tests here in 1999 and 2003 as well but the current vintage are heading into a three-match series against an Indian side who have lost just one series at home in the past decade and contain such superlative strokemakers as Virender Sehwag, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and VVS Laxman.

It should be enough to shaken an anxious debutant, but not the broad shouldered Bennett, who is excited at the prospect of pitting himself against the world's best.

He has his fingers crossed New Zealand field first so that he can be put to work immediately against an Indian side who have seen nothing of him aside from clips from his two one-day appearances in Bangladesh last month.

"I think I will probably be a little anxious and wanting to bowl straight away so that I can get into the battle and see what it's like," Bennett told NZPA today after a solid workout in the nets where he had more senior teammates taking evasive action from well directed short deliveries.

"I was young enough as a kid to grow up watching these guys. They probably won't be around in another five years and to look back in the future and say that you've played against a great Indian side and got some of them out would be great."

The national selectors have had Bennett under their radar for some time and thrust him into the national side for the forgettable limited overs series in Bangladesh where there were no happy memories following a 0-4 reverse.

But Bennett played twice, hustled in quickly to the crease with a high knee action and unconventional windmill action reminiscent of former seamer Kerry Walmsley in the mid-1990s.

New Zealand bowling coach Shane Jurgensen reckons Bennett has a lot to recommend him.

"He's strong, hits the crease hard and he's got that little bit of extra pace," he said of Bennett, who reached speeds of 144kmh in unhelpful conditions in Bangladesh.

He can expect few favours here, too, with the pitch expected to offer some early encouragement before flattening out.

But Jurgensen thinks the young man will cope.

"He has a real presence about him. The best part is that he just wants to bowl fast. He's a very relaxed character which is good because once you get to this level it's all about the mental side of the game."

Bennett, who is originally from Timaru, has suffered a couple of side strains but he's largely steered clear of serious injury to date.

A few coaches have encouraged him to modify his action but in the end he chose to stick to what comes naturally.

"It caused me some pain in my body and it just wasn't me."

However, he has made minor adjustments to stabilise himself at the crease and that has led to greater control, which he will need in bucketloads in this series.

"I want to bowl fast, that's why I play cricket. To do that I have to feel strong through my left arm, run in reasonably quick and make sure I am balanced with my head still and looking at the target."

While his action is not out of the coaching manual, those words suggest Bennett has followed some knowledgeable advice.


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