James Benning Interview - Twenty20 All Positive
James, how have the winter preparations been going?
It's been pretty good, mine pretty much started straight after the end of last season. I went out to Australia and played a season for a Perth cricket team with Stuart Walters, one of my Surrey team mates actually captained the side, so all in all it was a great experience. Unfortunately I left just before the final, but Stuart stayed and guided them to the final in which they unfortunately lost in. From a personal point of view, my winter went really well and I just can’t wait for the first game, as long as the weather perks up a bit.
So you have been used to the warm and now you have come back to the classic English summer?
It’s been a big shock to the system, snow on the ground in April whereas this time last year it was beautiful. The weather is one of the unfortunate things about being an English cricketer.
You have got a few new players in and will you be looking to take things forward more after a decent few years?
Absolutely, the key thing for us is consistency. We show great form in patches but that needs to be more regular. We have great quality players who are experienced, talented youth and anything that is needed to win something. We are always there or there abouts, our championship form from at the end of last year was good as we went from bottom to fourth within six weeks. The real driving force in pre-season was the thought of winnings the Championship and with regards to the other formats, Twenty20 is something that we have always been good at even though we didn’t make the finals for the first time last year. The Friends Provident we are again to inconsistent where we are loosing to much by small targets.
Going on to the Twenty20, how difficult do you find it to adapt and play the shorter format of the game after playing so many four day matches before?
It was definitely a shock when it first came and has surprised us all with the popularity. Every year it keeps growing and growing with the numbers increasing. The skills people have developed in that format have also brought them into 40 over cricket and even Championship matches. It has become a lot more fashionable to be more aggressive at the top of the order and it stems throughout with people taking calculated risks now. In all formats more calculated risks are being taken and cricket is moving forward with people being able to express themselves more and scoring at a quicker run rate.
Run rates now don’t matter so much, the chase is always on. Do you feel that all players in the side, including the late order batters, have the ability to score runs and put the ball over the rope when previously you may have thought that the game would be over?
Well a prime example is our last game from last year against Lancashire. Chasing down 450 on the last day is quite exceptional, no one would have thought it possible but since cricket has moved on, there is more belief in the dressing room. I feel that this stems through all formats, especially Twenty20 cricket.
Do you think it’s fair to say that bowlers are working harder on their batting in the current county scene so that they can stick around and help the senior batsman?
Definitely, bowlers have always been pigeon-holed as someone who comes in and will be an easy wicket for the opposition. But now 20-30 runs from a lower order batsman could likely win you a game, I am sure that they don’t want to be out there any longer than the fielding side but they do enjoy their time at the crease and want to be valuable.
In your side, are the specialist players for the different formats of the game?
Of course, now you see overseas players being changed for the different formats. Clubs will bring someone in for the Twenty20 period, more so for their publicity but then to provide experience. Different players come in for all the competitions, but first and foremost the majority of the players are able to adapt and change their game for the competitions.
With the success of the game, do you see more youngsters coming into the game and also supporting their side?
I remember playing in the first year when nobody really knew whether it would be successful, but we pitched up at Lords and there was 28,000 people for a Twenty20 game. No one could actually quite believe it. I spoke to Mark Ramprakash and he said he hadn’t even seen this kind of crowd for a Benson and Hedges Cup Final. The crowds are going up and up and it’s a great thing for the youngsters who want to come and watch enjoyable cricket. I think now that they are targeting the right people and now the game is pushing forward.
The World Cup for Twenty20 cricket is here next year, a real focus for the team now?
Yeah it’s having a massive impact all over the world. You only have to look at India who have jumped on board with the ICL and IPL. It’s a competition that everyone enjoys watching or playing in and it has definitely changed the game – all for the positive.