Dylan Bennie, Marlborough Cricket Club’s overseas player for the 2014 season, flew in from Johannesburg on Good Friday.
On Saturday he was playing for the Club’s first team in the opening friendly of the season – a home game against Corsham which Marlborough won by nine wickets. Dylan scored 11 not out – and took his turn as first change bowler. We will come back to the bowling later.
The majority of local cricket cricket clubs in the West of England Premier League invite overseas players to join their teams for the summer season.
This Dylan Bennie’s first time as an overseas player. He told MNO: “I’ve always wanted to come to come to England – travel around – and get a different feel of a different country.” As we shall see, he has another reason for wanting to play with a first team like Marlborough Cricket Club’s.
In South Africa he is a semi-pro with the Easterns whose base is the international ground Willowmore Park at Benoni, near Johannesburg.
The Easterns are a first class team playing at about the same level as a major county team in England. Their top players join those from the Northerns to form the Titans who play 4-day cricket in the South African Super Sports Series – and also 20/20 in the International Champions League.
The South African cricket season runs from September to March and Dylan has been a semi-pro for two seasons. He made his first class debut with the Easterns in a match against Namibia in October 2012.
Last season was a frustrating one for Dylan. South Africa’s quota laws mean that in every provincial cricket team from under-13s upwards six members have to be ‘players of colour’.
When it comes to getting a regular place in the first team, “The quota system makes my job harder.”
The quota system sometimes works to a team’s advantage, other times not: “The guys in my team are really really good, but sometimes it doesn’t work out.”
Last season he spent too much time in the ‘B’ team: “I lost my love of cricket – I’ve come here to find it again.”
Dylan is a wicket keeper and opening pair or third batsman. But Marlborough first team captain, Tom Norris, wants him as a seam bowler, so he has been getting some tips from Easterns’ bowling coach Andre Nel – a former member of the South Africa team.
When MNO met Dylan Bennie on Easter Monday he was feeling pretty stiff from his bowling against Corsham: “I haven’t bowled like that for 11 years!” How did his spell of bowling go? “It was not a good one.” But he is determined he will improve fast.
He had an invitation from another English club, but after his email conversation with Tom Norris decided that Marlborough was the place to be: “Marlborough had a good feel to it – that it would be the right choice.”
He will not get much time for sight seeing. Monday and Tuesday evenings he will be coaching at the club nets. He will be keeping up his fitness regime. And on top of that he has an online degree course to pursue.
After school, he took his gap year at Pretoria University’s Cricket Academy. He then started a degree course at the university, but soon decided to turn to cricket – “my great love” – and go semi-pro.
Instead of full time study at the university, he is doing an online business degree with a law speciality. And in May and June online surrenders to old fashioned exams and he has to go up to London to sit six of them: “A lot of overseas players do their studies in this way.”
His only other time away from Marlborough will be, he hopes, a quick visit back to Joburg for his partner’s birthday. That’s still to be negotiated – perhaps she should have a word with Tom Norris.
Dylan is joining a Marlborough team with high hopes of a great season. In the last five seasons they have been between third and fifth in the Wiltshire Division of the West of England Premier League – coming third last year with only four games lost all season.
Their aim is to make it back into the senior division, the Glos/Wilts Division which is the highest level the team has played. The last time they were in that division was in 2008.
They are relying on three or four very promising eighteen year olds – and, of course, on Dylan Bennie.
After another friendly next weekend, they play their first league game away at Great Bedwyn on Saturday, May 3.