Nearly two years after a major back operation Hamish Bennett likened to a home handyman job, the beaming fast bowler was pawing at the ground at Seddon Park yesterday.
Despite some dynamic first-class spells for Canterbury, Bennett was stunned when his phone rang less than an hour after New Zealand's 24-run win over India on Sunday night. It was national selector Bruce Edgar, already resigned to the fact Adam Milne would be out for some time (he was confirmed yesterday as sidelined for six weeks with an abdominal strain).
"It was a bit of a shock and I wasn't really expecting it ... then it was just excitement," he said after joining the Black Caps squad.
Having played one test and 12 ODIs, the last at the 2011 World Cup, Bennett underwent surgery on his broken down back in February 2012. The surgeon was Grahame Inglis who operated on fast bowler Shane Bond's back which involved fusing his spine with titanium wire. Bennett's procedure was even more intricate.
"It just entailed removing a stress fracture, going down to Bunnings and putting in about three screws and some titanium wire just to hold the back together, and get some bone out of the hip and put it into the back. She's pretty complicated stuff," Bennett said.
"I had some bones growing into my spinal cord and shutting down the bottom half of my body. I probably should have had the operation about seven years earlier, it was misdiagnosed."
Then it was three months of doing little except watch television and get addicted to PlayStation. He stared at the ceiling a lot and wondered if he'd ever get back to bowling fast.
But the operation was a roaring success and Bennett's 26-year-old back held up well. First order of business was to remodel the busy bowling action that got him in trouble, all arms and legs and front-on which exerted terrible pressure on the spine.
"I was a hair's breadth away from breaking my back so something had to change," he said.
His tutors were two of the best, former Black Caps bowling coach Allan Donald, and Bond, the current one.
"I'm definitely more efficient. It's shown in the red ball stuff with Canterbury I can bowl more overs now, and more overs on the trot. The speed is just the same from the feedback I've had from the guys."
After a tentative comeback last summer, he was finally back into full first-class cricket in November. Charging in and intimidating batsmen like he used to, Bennett's the leading Plunket Shield wicket-taker with 24 scalps at 23.12.
He's unlikely to play today in Hamilton but is a big contender for game three on the quicker Eden Park pitch on Saturday, where he'll fit in perfectly to New Zealand's aggressive, short-pitched approach to the Indian batsmen.
"You're trying to get them all out and make them all feel uncomfortable, it doesn't matter whether it's [Virat] Kohli or anyone. You just try to have a crack and everyone.
"I'm just excited to get an opportunity, playing the No 1 ranked team with their batting lineup ... all those times when you're on the couch and hating life and hating your body, this is what it all builds up to."
- © Fairfax NZ News
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