It was quite strange to see ‘debut’ featured next to Hamish Bennett’s name on the team sheet on the evening of the first T20I between New Zealand and India this year at Eden Park, Auckland.
After all, this was the scene of the famed tie against the same opponents back in 2014. Bennett, playing his 13th ODI at the time, tied down Virat Kohli and eventually got him to edge one bowled at searing pace. This time around, he was to get him out thrice across 5 T20Is and 2 ODIs.
The right-arm quick has played international cricket in bursts. Having made his ODI and Test debut in 2010 in the subcontinent, he returned to play the 2011 World Cup in India. Hitting the deck hard and regularly attacking the stumps, he picked 4 wickets apiece against Pakistan and Kenya.
Despite giving Kohli a run for his money in the 2014 home series, injuries marred his career early on and he couldn't quite cement his place in the XI.
However, a lot has changed since then. Bennett moved north from playing for Canterbury to Wellington and fittingly calls it his ‘second chapter in life’. He got more opportunities to bowl in the death overs, led the bowling attack, and also won silverware in white-ball domestic cricket.
It culminated in Bennett's ODI recall for the tri-series involving hosts Ireland and Bangladesh in 2017. However, it was his maiden T20I call-up against India which really revived his international career. This also topped off winning the Super Smash title with Wellington.
So, what changed between the two appearances against India in 2014 and 2020? In an exclusive chat with Sportskeeda, Hamish Bennett spoke about changes in his bowling, the India series, and much more.
Excerpts from Hamish Bennett's exclusive chat
Hamish Bennett on the changes in his bowling
Bennett started off by saying that he has incorporated more variations in his bowling.
“In 2011 and 2014, I was just a young, raw, run-in and hit-the-deck-hard sort of a bowler. I have still got those skills though. When I moved to Wellington, I bowled more in the death overs so I naturally became a different bowler bowling all those variations, trying to expand my game and having the freedom to do that. I have tried to become the best death bowler that I can than I was back then.“
In terms of mindset, having more variations reflected in Bennett's increased confidence and his ability to able to adapt to different situations and conditions.
“If you’ve got more variations, you feel you’ve got more modes of dismissal. If you’re bowling on a slower wicket, you bowl slower balls. If it is a green wicket, you run in and bowl normally.
"So I think you’re in the game a lot more. In terms of my confidence levels, I think the older you get and the more you play, you become more self-assured of yourself just as a person and in your cricketing abilities so you just try to go out there and do your best.”
Hamish Bennett's death bowling has improved significantly. His economy rate at the death in ODIs (overs 40-50) was 8.55 in the 2010-14 period. This improved to 7.31 in 2017, and he now boasts of an exceptional 6.25 economy at the death in 2020. Even in T20Is, Bennett only concedes runs at 7.33 an over in the final five overs of the innings.
Now at the height of his cricketing abilities, Bennett is well aware of the volatile and the fickle nature of T20 cricket, having played 60 games in the Super Smash over the years prior to his debut.
Hamish Bennett on India series
As a result, Bennett was no stranger to the pressure Rohit Sharma put him under in the 3rd T20I at Seddon Park, Hamilton. The top-order batsman belted 26 runs off Bennett’s second over to bring up his second-fastest T20I fifty. However, he returned to concede just 14 off his last two overs and prized out the key wickets of Sharma, Kohli and Shivam Dube.
“It wasn't ideal (conceding 40 runs off his first two overs). You’re always going to be hit for runs, that’s the reality of T20 cricket especially in New Zealand. The older I have got, with the parenthood as well, the pressure is different now. If it had happened to me years ago, I would have probably melted," says Bennett.
The 33-year-old attributed his maturity to his comeback in the game:
“Now that different things have happened to me in my life, I have developed different perspectives. I can take it away and say ‘it was just a game of cricket’ or ‘I did what I could but didn't really execute well.’ India got on top of me for those two overs but you have got to take your medicine and move on.”
He stated that a bowler seldom has room for error in any of the formats, and that he always looks to be in the game:
“The great thing about being a bowler is that you can always be in the game. When you get the ball in your hand, you’re always thinking how you’re going to change the game. After those first two overs (of mine), I was so hungry to get the ball back in my hand to try changing the game and win it for my team,” he further added.
However, New Zealand went on to lose the third and the fourth T20s from comfortable positions. To make matters worse, both the games saw New Zealand succumb via the Super Overs that ensued. Despite the gut-wrenching losses, Hamish Bennett is not averse to the concept of Super Overs.
“It was pretty funny we started a game in January and finished in February (4th T20I was played on 31st January). New Zealand hasn't been on the right side of the Super Overs of late but from the crowd and the fan perspective, Super Overs are fantastic. There’s always going to be a winner and a loser in a game and there’s no better way than Super Overs to decide the winner,” Bennett said.
“When you’re watching your team out there batting, you’re hoping for more boundaries which is hard with someone like (Jasprit) Bumrah operating. When Tim (Southee) was bowling, you hope for a dot ball to try and put pressure on the Indian batsmen hoping for a wicket.
"It is gutting to lose in that situation but I have watched a lot of cricket and not being involved in many of the Blackcaps’ T20 games so I look at it from a fan’s perspective and think of it as a great spectacle to watch,” Bennett added.
Hamish Bennett's domestic captaincy stint
The nerves of steel and the getting-back-on-his-feet attitude are testimonies to his captaincy stint with the Wellington Firebirds in 2018-19 season. Having led them to the Ford Trophy title win in 2018-19, Hamish Bennett played a central role in their Plunket Shield, and the Super Smash title-winning campaign where he finished as the leading wicket-taker (17 scalps) this year.
Bennett draws a lot of confidence from being at the helm for Wellington a year ago:
“I was fortunate enough to captain Wellington and when you’re captaining, you want to lead from the front so that gave me a lot of confidence to go out there and lead the way with ten men behind me who trusted me and backed me,” he shares.
He talked about being responsible and leading from the front:
“If you talk the talk, you have got to walk the walk. It makes you responsible for your actions. The challenge is always the selection as you have to leave people out. They may be having a good season for you but you might have some BLACKCAPS players coming back like Jimmy Neesham or Tom Blundell.
"As a result, you have to drop a few other in-form players. Losing is also hard because I always saw it as my fault. You think of ways how you could have done things differently. You feel like the CEO or owner of the team.”
Bennett further added:
“As a captain, you have got to be selfless and willing to take the blame on yourself as well as taking responsibility for whatever goes wrong to make your players go out and perform. Everyone’s got their own style (of captaincy) but that was my way.”
Hamish Bennett's future plans
With further tours to Europe and West Indies postponed indefinitely, there looms uncertainty over the T20 World Cup as well. However, with New Zealand’s return to Alert Level 1 viz. normalcy imminent in the coming few weeks, training and cricket- in whatever capacity- will look to resume in some form.
With the lockdown period cutting short the final rounds of the Plunket Shield slated for February and March, it has given Bennett plenty of time off to spend with his family and also to contribute in the development of Wellington city.
“Certainly miss cricket. I was training and bowling for probably 18 months non-stop so it was a great chance for me to reconnect with my family and get away from the game. I taught my son how to ride his bike. We had really good weather which was brilliant.
"I did some gym and went running. I work at the moment in the new development of Wellington. Currently, I have started cricket training once a week. Next training is going to be in September with the Firebirds so I have got plenty of time before that.”
With enough playing momentum gathered since his return to form and from injuries, Bennett is hungry for more cricket in whatever form it comes for him.
Despite having entered various auctions in lucrative T20 leagues around the world and not getting picked, he still hopes to be involved in some of them “just for the experience of playing with world-class players.”
Hamish Bennett defies age as a factor to measure his longevity of playing career, and wants to play as much as he can. He said:
“I would love to play Test cricket for New Zealand again. I had a serious back injury when I was really young (ruling him out from his debut Test) and was later diagnosed with a stress fracture which gave me a lot of injuries. It has helped my game mentally because I am used to setbacks now.
"I feel great at the moment. I don't feel like I am 33, I feel I am much younger than that. I would love to play as much cricket as possible, to be honest!”
Hopefully, the next time Hamish Bennett is part of a Super Over with the Blackcaps, they end up on the right side of the result. Irrespective of the format, of course.