Writing on the death a much-loved cricketer is never easy. It is made worse when they have passed at too young an age. Such is the case with the former England, Warwickshire and Surrey fast bowler Joey Benjamin, who has died at the age of 60 following a heart attack.
He was born in St Kitts but made his name in English cricket, signing for Warwickshire at the age of 27 after a spell in the minor counties game, before enjoying a successful time at Surrey between 1992 and 1999, where he was universally loved by the Surrey faithful and teammates alike.
In 1994, at the age of 33, he made his one Test match appearance for England, and only illness prevented him getting more caps, although he did play in two ODIs. The Test in question was against South Africa at his home ground, The Oval, where his lively fast-medium snagged four for 42 – quality scalps too in Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels. Yet his effort was somewhat overshadowed by Devon Malcolm’s “you guys are history” spell of nine for 57.
“There were whispers, but it was still a surprise to be selected,” he said at the time. “I was having a good season, though, and ended up with 80 wickets. The only thing I was disappointed with was that I wanted to take a five-for on my debut!”
That Oval performance persuaded Ray Illingworth to give him a place on the Ashes tour of 1994-95. Sadly, fate intervened in the form chickenpox and left Joey did not play a Test on the tour.
Gary Naylor, a Guerilla Cricket commentator, regular on the balcony at the Oval and the curator of the website Sports Obituaries, recalled: “It may have been a blessing in disguise, as Michael Slater set the tone for the series smashing Phil DeFreitas’s first ball to the point boundary, three big Australian wins retaining The Ashes as England cycled through six seamers in the five matches”.
Naylor added: “He he was a fine bowler with plenty of craft picked up in Midlands league cricket, a classic English fast-medium pacer. He had honed those league skills filling in at Warwickshire but really came to the fore at The Oval, where, already into his 30s, he found friends in the dressing room and success in the middle.”
Former Warwickshire team-mate Paul Smith, an occasional guest on Guerilla Cricket, said that he was “a lovely guy” He told The Cricketer website: “I knew him for the best part of a decade. He was always highly-rated on the local club scene, but it took him a long time to get on the staff. He proved the doubters wrong after moving to Surrey.”
Surrey colleague Martin Bicknell reminisced: “He hustled batsmen and nicked them off with his outswinger. He was a fine bowler and even though he didn’t start until pretty late he was unlucky not to play more Test cricket. It’s come as a massive and terrible shock to all of us that he’s been lost to us, he seemed so incredibly fit.”
Warwickshire CCC said in a statement that it had learnt of his passing with “great sadness”. It added: “Benjamin enjoyed four seasons with the Bears where he made 25 first-class and 26 List A appearances, taking a combined 87 wickets across both formats. The thoughts of everyone at Warwickshire CCC are with Joey’s family and close friends at this difficult time.”
Meanwhile the Surrey flag flies at half mast above the Mickey Stewart Members Pavilion.
Joey finished his playing days with 387 first-class wickets at 29.94 and added 173 more in List A cricket. Fittingly and very much in character, after retirement he continued to give back to the game as a coach at Reigate Grammar School, where he will be sadly missed.
He is the third Surrey cricketer to have died in the past three months with England batsman John Edrich and long-serving bowler Robin Jackman passing either side of Christmas.