Surrey County Cricket Club is mourning the loss of Joey Benjamin, who died on Monday 8th March following a heart attack, aged 60.
The Club flag on top of the Micky Stewart Members’ Pavilion is at half mast.
Club Chairman Richard Thompson paid tribute to the St Kitts-born seamer, commenting: “I’ve known Joey for 25 years and have gloried in his triumphs. I particularly remember the final Test at The Oval in 1994, where his performance earned him an Ashes tour. It was a long time coming as anyone who watched him bowl that season would testify.
“Everything he did was with a smile and grace. He wore the brown cap very proudly with absolute distinction and will be long remembered at Surrey County Cricket Club. He has been taken too soon.”
Richard Spiller looks back on Benjamin’s career.
He might have been a late starter in first-class cricket but Joey Benjamin packed plenty into his career.
‘Benji’ had to wait until he was he was 27 before breaking into the county game, impressing for Staffordshire and at club level before Warwickshire took him on and gave him his Championship debut in 1988.
His brisk pace and ability to swing the ball away from right-handers was noticed by Surrey despite limited opportunities at Edgbaston and he joined the staff at the Kia Oval in 1992, quickly establishing himself as a regular member of the County Championship side.
Increasing familiarity with his new surroundings saw him flourish with a haul of 64 Championship wickets the following season. It was in 1994, at the mature age of 33, that the best of Benjamin came through as a campaign which brought him 76 victims at 20 apiece earned him a crack at the international scene.
Included in the squad for the penultimate Test of the summer, against South Africa at Headingley, he missed out on the final eleven but replaced Angus Fraser in the next match at his adopted home of The Oval.
One of three Surrey players in the side – alongside county skipper Alec Stewart and Graham Thorpe – Benjamin trapped Hansie Cronje and Kepler Wessels LBW before having David Richardson caught behind and Craig Matthews snaffled in the slips to finish with 4-64 in 17 impressive overs
That he was restricted to 11 wicketless overs in the second innings owed much to Devon Malcolm’s remarkably destructive 9-57, one of the great fast bowling displays in the history of Test cricket, but his solid contribution to a series-levelling victory was rewarded by a place in the England touring side to Australia the following winter. There he was restricted to a pair of one-day internationals, having been struck down by chicken pox early on, the inevitable rebuilding after yet another searing trip down under ensuring there were no more opportunities.
That successful outing in the Oval Test was also some compensation for the crushing disappointment Benjamin had felt nine days earlier, when he almost snatched a remarkable victory in Surrey’s NatWest Trophy semi-final thriller against Worcestershire. Few gave the hosts a chance after Tim Curtis (136no) had partnered Tom Moody (180no) in a mighty stand of 309 which sped Worcestershire to 357-2.
When the hosts went into the final over needing 22, with just one wicket left, it appeared all over only for Benjamin to thrash two massive straight sixes from Stuart Lampitt but see an attempted third somehow plucked out of the sky by the giant Moody on the long-off boundary.
At that time Surrey’s bid to end a drought of honours, which had lasted since 1982, seemed never-ending but Benjamin remained a valued member of the squad which won the Sunday League in 1996 and the Benson & Hedges Cup in 1997, fading out of the side and being released in 1999. He finished with 387 first-class wickets at 29 plus another 173 List A victims at 31.
He remained involved in cricket, playing for Bromley in the Kent League as well as the Surrey Masters, while contributing to tutoring future generations of players as the professional at Reigate Grammar School.
“Joey was absolutely outstanding for us in the mid-1990s, particularly that 1994 season,” said his old new ball partner Martin Bicknell. “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.”
Enjoying an encyclopaedic knowledge of films and being extremely well read, Benjamin was as far away from the popular image of a quick bowler as could be. But his expertise fell short in other areas. When he had first arrived at The Oval his possession of a sponsored car was cut short when the club discovered he could not drive – and even when he passed his test later, colleagues were distinctly nervous of travelling with him.
But making assumptions about Joey Benjamin was never a safe thing to do, which was why he was such a fascinating character and will be so badly missed.
Photo by Tom Shaw