Cape Town – Sulieman Benn, an unusually stormy petrel of spin bowling, looks as though he has secured his ticket to a maiden Test series in South Africa this summer.
It will put him on a fresh collision course with the Proteas’ standout fast bowler Dale Steyn, with whom he was involved in a much-publicised altercation – perhaps it is most fittingly branded a “spat” — during SA’s last tour of the islands in 2010 when they won a three-Test series 2-0.
The West Indies team Benn represents have one further assignment ahead of their headline visit here in 2014/15 – they will be the only incoming attraction of the season – as they first tackle India away in a three-Test series in October and November.
But then it is all systems go for their first series in South Africa since 2007/08, a trip that includes Tests at Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town, five one-day internationals and three Twenty20 internationals.
The once-mighty Caribbean outfit still lie a lowly eighth on the Test rankings, although they have just thrashed Bangladesh in a two-Test home series.
Holders of the No 1 spot at present, the Proteas are likely to be heavily favoured to win the Test series but, despite the imbalance on paper, there will be no lack of needle given past flashpoints between the sides.
Benn, whose reputation arguably precedes him, was a central character in 2010 tensions, and now seems a virtual certainty for selection for the West Indies touring party to South Africa, a first-time experience for him at the relatively advanced age of 33.
That is because he was a key architect of the Bangladeshi demolition job, bagging 14 wickets at an eye-catching average of 12.42 over the course of the two easy wins for the Windies; the series ended earlier this week.
Normally he would have been an overwhelming candidate for player of the series, although he was pipped by 21-year-old opening batsman Kraigg Brathwaite – another with no knowledge yet of the South African landscape – who plundered 324 runs at 108.00 including a double century.
Brathwaite was only born in 1992, the year South Africa played their once-off first post-isolation Test match against the very West Indies in Bridgetown.
But it is perhaps the 2.01m giant Benn – he will have to have a serious shocker in spin-friendly India to be overlooked – who’ll initially attract more attention when the teams go into battle in mid-December, given his prolific track record in the disciplinary department.
Among the left-armer’s conflict incidents was his apparently incessant sledging of Steyn while the Proteas tailender was batting in the Barbados-staged third Test of 2010.
It clearly got under Steyn’s skin because when he was dismissed — and Benn was again not shy to give him a send-off — the Phalaborwa Express lost his composure and spat at the West Indian’s feet.
Steyn later pleaded guilty to conduct “contrary to the spirit of the game” and was fined all of his match fee, although Benn skirted censure on that occasion in spite of match referee Jeff Crowe saying there had been provocation from him.
But the fiery Barbadian earned other headlines during that SA visit to the Caribbean, when he was oddly ordered off the field by his own captain at the time, Chris Gayle, after a heated disagreement over bowling strategy for him in one of the ODIs.
Earlier, in December 2009, Benn was banned for two matches after an altercation with two Australians, Mitchell Johnson and Brad Haddin, during a Perth Test match.
Long, hot summer ahead?
Watch this space …
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