Surrey's big-hitter, James Benning told skysports.com he is raring to go as the county season begins.
By Oliver Burley
Last Updated: 16/04/08 12:30pm
Surrey's James Benning told skysports.com he wants to pack a punch on the County Championship circuit this season after a successful winter playing for Perth.
The 24-year-old is ready to bring his aggressive limited-overs form into the four-day arena and help the Brown Caps challenge for the division one title.
Benning blasted 152 as Surrey powered to a world-record one-day score of 496-4 off 50 overs against Gloucestershire in the Friends Provident Trophy last summer, prompting skipper Mark Butcher to tip him for future England honours.
But he averaged only 27.7 runs across 11 Championship innings and must now challenge the likes of new-signing Usman Afzaal and veteran Ali Brown, who has rejected an Indian Premier League offer to stay at the Oval, for a top-five spot.
"My main priority this year is the four-day game," said Benning, who spent some time working with former Surrey skipper-turned-celebrity boxer Adam Hollioake while in Australia.
"All of my performances have come in the one-day game, so that's all I'm known for, but this year I want to stamp my authority on the team with some big scores in a controlled manner.
"Adam's helped me a lot with the mental side of things; he's a very strong person, a great leader and I've taken a lot from what he's said. I've grown up a lot this winter."
Helping Perth reach the A Grade Grand Final has only fuelled Benning's ambition and, after supplementing his 574 runs with 37 wickets, he wants to become a genuine all-rounder.
"We lost one game in the entire time I was out there; it was an incredible feeling of success and I want to take that into this county season with Surrey.
"I got some overs under my belt and it's given me a new lease of life," added the medium-pacer.
"England prospect or not, the main focus now is to do well for Surrey and win some silverware."
Surrey have struggled to fill the trophy cabinet in recent years but coach Alan Butcher believes that could be about to change with the addition of West Indian Pedro Collins and spinner Saqlain Mushtaq to his squad.
"We are aiming to recapture the quality and spirit of cricket that we showed at the end of last year and make sure we are competitive in all four competitions."
He added: "A good season could really kick-start James (Benning's) career. He is starting to understand that it is not all about how hard you hit the ball, but how many runs you can get.
"After batting at six or seven in last season's Championship, his challenge now is to force himself up the order by converting 40s and 50s into bigger totals.
"That won't be easy but he is capable of it. Last season he played some important innings at times when we had lost momentum and helped turn good totals into sizeable ones."
Butcher believes that the impact of the IPL could eventually lead to franchise teams being introduced into the English game, but Benning is wary of knee-jerk changes.
"The IPL is great as it is putting cricket back on the map," he said, "but the Twenty20 format is very popular here at the moment, so I'm hoping there aren't too many modifications.
"A lot of players have come into the limelight a little bit more, so I think that would be a pity if it was taken away.
"If the IPL made me an offer, I'd have to think about it very seriously, but I wouldn't want to miss any Surrey games and if it jeopardises any future with England, I wouldn't take the risk."