Benkenstein taking the positives following return from injury


By Martin Smith

Essex have endured a difficult Metro Bank One-Day Cup campaign, but Luc Benkenstein for one is happy just to be playing cricket again.

The 18-year-old leg-spinning scion of a famous cricketing family only made his season’s debut last week after suffering a stress fracture in his back that kept him sidelined for three months.

Playing just as a batsman to allow his back to recover, he shared half-century partnerships with Tom Westley in Essex’s thrilling victory against Middlesex, and with Beau Webster against Yorkshire, before being promoted to open against Leicestershire in his third appearance in five days.

Benkenstein, then 17, launched himself as one of the county’s outstanding young prospects in last year’s Royal London Cup with 10 wickets, including a sensational six for 42 against Glamorgan, and was looking to kick on this season.

“Yes, I was hoping to try and push my case forward, to maybe get into the Blast team, but these things happen,” says the son of former Durham all-rounder Dale. “It’s a shame I haven’t been able to be part of the team’s success in the T20 and red-ball, but it’s been great to watch from the sidelines.

“As I say, I think these things happen for a reason, and it’s allowed me to work on the physical side of things. Hopefully I’ll come back even stronger for next season.”

The problem came to a head in May when he was bowling in the Chelmsford nets to help Bangladesh prepare for their one-day series against Ireland. “I struggled to move the next morning and I knew something was wrong and that I had to say something.”

Stress fractures in the back are notoriously the curse of the fast bowler – think Reece Topley, for example – and Benkenstein admits: “I never knew spinners could get these injuries either. But studies are showing that leg-spinners put as much stress on their backs as seamers nowadays because of all the rotation of their bodies and the fact they are starting to run in faster.

“I’m allowed to bowl off one step at the moment, so if they want me to bowl off one step I can. But realistically we’re looking at around November time for me to be fully fit.”

Benkenstein’s form in the One-Day Cup last year led to a call to play in the Pakistan Junior League where he not only helped Gwadar Sharks to the final with two man-of-the-match performances with the bat, but also came under the scrutiny of team mentor Sir Vivian Richards and head coach Mushtaq Ahmed.

“It was honestly surreal to have Sir Viv there. He is my dad’s hero and I think my dad’s a bit jealous that I was over there with him. It was amazing to be able to learn from him. He seemed more keen than us most of the time! He was always down to play with us on the sideline, giving massive celebrations every time we got a wicket.

“Seeing someone like that happy for you when you do well, it almost makes you want to do even better. It makes you want to push harder to get to that next level and try and win for him.”

It has been the same story at Essex where head coach Anthony McGrath has taken a keen interest in a young man who returned to this country from South Africa alone aged 16 to attend Seaford College in West Sussex where former Hampshire captain Chris Adams is cricket master.

“I’d just been picked for South Africa Under-19s and me and Dad had a long discussion about which country I wanted to play for, because I had both passports. I want to play for England, I love England and it’s always been my dream to represent England in Test cricket. So I made the move by myself.”

He has his foot firmly on the first rung of the international ladder after being selected for the England Under-19 squad to play in upcoming series against Ireland and Australia, starting next week.

His father, presently Gloucestershire head coach, played for South Africa, grandfather Martin represented Rhodesia back in the day, and the grandson says: “I think it’s pretty cool to be keeping the family legacy going and hopefully be the third generation to play for their country.”