October is Black History Month, an annual celebration of the achievements and contribution of black people to society.
Surrey County Cricket Club are this month honouring the achievements of some of the finest Black players during the Club’s 175 years.
Richard Spiller profiles the final four we’ll discuss in this three-week series. Click here to read the five players covered in the first edition and here to see who we highlighted last week.
Making his debut at the relatively late age of 27 meant Joey Benjamin was never likely to enjoy a lengthy first-class career. That made his achievement in reaching international cricket all the more laudible.
After four seasons with Warwickshire – he was born in St Kitts and played Minor Counties cricket for Staffordshire – Benjamin moved south to Surrey in 1992, where he became an integral member of the side over the next seven years. Consistent success at county level saw him picked for the final Test of the 1994 summer, making his debut at The Oval against South Africa.
The tourists were 1-0 up and needing just a draw to claim their first series against England since 1965, Benjamin – springheeled approach followed by a whirl of runs which delivered the ball at nippy fast-medium – claiming 4-42 in the first innings. Yet his contribution, and that of others, was overshadowed by Devon Malcolm’s extraordinary blast of 9-57 which decimated South Africa’s second innings and inspired England to victory.
It was sufficient to earn Benjamin a tour place to Australia the following winter, although he was limited to two one-day internationals of a frustrating winter, playing out the rest of his career with Surrey before departing in 1999.
Singleminded determination was the hallmark of Michael Carberry’s career. The left-hander, born in Croydon, had to fight his way through to Test level – he played six matches, plus half a dozen one-day internationals and a T20 – despite numerous hurdles, which included serious injuries and ill-health.
Opener Carberry’s promising early days with Surrey included his maiden first-class century but he was competing with international players in a team which won three County Championships in four years, where even his magnificent fielding could not make the difference.
There was further frustration in three years at Kent but he made the most of a move to Hampshire, his Test debut coming against Bangladesh in March 2010, having gained recognition all the way up from U15 level. The other five matches came on England’s hellish Ashes tour of 2013-14, when he stood up better than most to Mitchell Johnson and his fellow pacemen.
Yet to his intense disappointment, there were to be no more opportunities and after a short spell at Leicestershire he quit the game, nowadays showing his talents as an accomplished artist.
“Carbs scored bundles of runs but he had players like Mark Butcher, Ian Ward and Mark Ramprakash to compete against,” said colleague Alex Tudor. “Kent seemed more interested in going down the Kolpak route but he took his chance at Hampshire to build a very distinguished career.”
Born in Jamaica, Dennis Marriott came to Surrey’s attention while playing for Carnegie – a club formed for players from the Caribbean who did not feel welcome at most clubs – and impressed as an amateur in the 1963 and 1964 seasons.
Left-arm seamer Marriott joined the professional staff in 1965 and over the next three seasons claimed 43 first team wickets, including 5-67 against India. Competing against the likes of Geoff Arnold, Robin Jackman and David Gibson meant opportunities were limited, although he claimed 140 wickets for the second team over four years, and Marriott – who had arrived in the UK aged 19 – left the club.
But switching to bowling cutters, he attracted the interest of Middlesex for a spell between 1972 and 1974, taking 23 John Player League wickets in 1973 in what skipper Mike Brearley described as “Underwood mould”. Marriott continued to be a force in club cricket, his partnership with Eaton Swaby instrumental in Mitcham claiming four Surrey Championship titles in the 1970s.
He retired in 1988, aged 48, and although ill-health forced him into a wheelchair later in life, he was a regular attender at The Oval until shortly before his death aged 75 in 2014.
Nico Reifer’s first year as a professional cricketer would not be envied.
His rookie contract for 2020 coincided with the Covid19 crisis, the world’s biggest health crisis for a century, which forced the fixture list to be scrapped an emergency replacement which left him with no opportunities to showcase the talent which had seen him earn a deal when he was just 18.
The Barbados-born all-rounder, whose batting is his strongest suit, made his first appearance in Surrey age group sides when he was 15, having spent four years at Whitgift School. By 2017 he was becoming a regular feature of the county’s second team, appearing in all formats, and he spent the 2019-20 winter playing at grade level for Midland-Guildford in Perth, Western Australia. His potential had been indicated by captaining Barbados teams at youth level.
Like so many others, Reifer will be hoping that opportunities will be more plentiful if 2021 marks a return to more normal times.