Walking tall back to a far pavilion

Stephen Brenkley draws the curtain on the career of Kent's resolute captain
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The Independent Online
IT TOOK Mark Benson about one second to pronounce on the innings he will remember above all others. As it happened, there were two of them. They came in the same match a decade ago and involved Benson repelling the fury of the great Malcolm Marshall in conditions helpful to fast bowling.

As Marshall usually had no need of assistance from the state of the weather nor the pitch to dismantle the opposition, Benson's assessment of the quality of his batting was understandable and probably accurate. He made 90 and 97 not out, and Kent beat Hampshire by five wickets. "I was probably at my peak then, or at least as good as I was ever going to be," he said. "I used to relish the challenge of fast bowling. Nothing concentrated the mind and body like going into face the likes in particular of Marshall and Sylvester Clarke. That was when I was younger, mind you."

Benson was 38 in July and last week, to nobody's surprise, his retirement was announced. Kent chose, somewhat churlishly, to say they had released their erstwhile captain, but since a surgeon had declared that his injured knee made it impossible for him to play again, any options in the matter were limited. After 16 years, he would have gone gracefully enough.

He is but one of several old troopers to be departing this year, men whose names you always looked for in the scorecards because they were capable of magnificent deeds. Paul Terry has gone from Hampshire, John Carr from Middlesex, Phil Bainbridge from Durham, Colin Wells from Derbyshire, John Childs from Essex and Steve Barwick from Glamorgan. The game is obviously responding to the call for youth and yet more youth.

Benson's drift into the sunset is the more poignant because he has not played a solitary game in what turned out to be his final summer. He twisted his right knee in a pre-season football match and still awaits the necessary surgery.

His plans are uncertain. He intends to apply to become an umpire, and would be a good one for his concentration when the new ball is moving about was largely infallible and his ability to read its line not much worse. Public school coaching is another prospect. But like so many players, he has not given the future much attention.

"It's been marvellous but I'm not one to hanker after it," he said. "If I've got one little regret, it's that I would have liked two more centuries to make it 50 in all. But I'm leaving Kent with a team of great potential. Winning the Sunday League last year was the greatest moment because it had been 18 years without a trophy. The team should go on now and win other things, and that's great credit to the coach, Darryl Foster."

A credit to Benson, too. He scored 18,387 runs at 40.23. Truly one of the boys of summer.

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