Cricket: Benjamin breezy

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The Independent Online
Surrey 429

Glamorgan 77-2

SURREY'S march towards what would be their first Championship title for 23 years could only have been continued in wellingtons and waterproofs here yesterday.

Only six overs were possible, sandwiched between the morning drizzle and afternoon deluge, Glamorgan moving on by 20 runs without further loss.

In that brief time the 33- year-old Joey Benjamin twice found the edge of David Hemp's bat to underline the bowler's present form in a career that has only had an autumn.

Only Courtney Walsh has taken more than Benjamin's 34 wickets this season and with a Benson and Hedges Cup semi- final against his old club Warwickshire at The Oval on Tuesday, Benjamin's long-overdue hour might be about to arrive.

'If someone had said I would have 34 wickets by this stage of the season, I wouldn't have believed them,' he said yesterday. 'I am not really doing anything different, I may be just more relaxed.

The change has come since Benjamin joined Surrey in 1992 after a contested move.

With Gladstone Small, Tim Munton and Allan Donald, plus all-rounders such as Dermot Reeve and Paul Smith ahead of him, he had played only 25 matches in four seasons at Edgbaston.

At 31, the clock was ticking for Benjamin. He entered the game as a 27-year-old, gambling by giving up his job as a landscape gardener with Staffordshire Council.

'I wanted to play first-team cricket and Warwickshire could not assure me of that, but I thought it was a bit harsh that they contested my move,' Benjamin said.

'Surrey said I would be first choice behind Martin Bicknell and Waqar Younis, which gave me a lot of confidence.' That was rewarded in 1992 with 45 wickets. His haul of 62 in the Championship last season matched Waqar and earned Benjamin his county cap.

He arrived in England from St Kitts as a 15-year-old and played league cricket and for Staffordshire in the Minor Counties until Warwickshire belatedly spotted his potential after Worcestershire and Gloucestershire had both given him second-team games.

'They only offered me a three-month contract, but I thought it was better to try it than wonder what might have been. Anyway, it was better than a nine-to-five job.'

Routine, though, is what Benjamin has been striving for ever since coming under the eye of the former Surrey coach Geoff Arnold. 'He told me to be boring, which I'm doing now,' Benjamin said. 'Before I was getting to the wicket trying to do something different all the time.'

He comes up against the monotonous Brian Lara on Tuesday - a clockwork century-maker - but is hedging his bets: 'The batters will win this game, our wicket is so good.'