Born in Bordeaux, France, educated in Berkshire, United Kingdom, and a holder of both Australian and UK passports, all-rounder Benny Howell’s journey to the Indian Premier League has been anything but orthodox.
Keep your seatbelts on, for we are going to take a ride through the confusing lows and the enthralling highs this unique all-rounder went through to get to where he is today. He was a self-proclaimed ‘weird kid’ in school, battled ADHD, flirted with baseball, and almost gave up cricket before T20 leagues worldwide understood his worth and lapped up his talents.
The diary of a ‘weird kid’
Howell’s father, Jonathan Howell, was a Real Tennis Professional. His brother, Nick Howell, is a former professional golfer. As a child, young Benny toyed around with multiple sports. In a blog post he wrote on the Professional Cricketers Association (PCA) website, he opened up about sport being his medium of expression to entertain his ADHD side while not being the loud, annoying kid that was punished for being in the wrong place and saying the wrong things.
While he used sports as an escape initially, it was not long before he received appreciation for his talent on the field. He channelled all of his attention into playing well, since in sport, he got rewarded for being himself, unlike his classroom persona. Sports gave him a release, and he jumped on the first opportunity he got - cricket.
Right out of school, he signed a professional contract with Hampshire to play cricket. His hectic mind was occupied with the game, but it was not long before his actions took over it. He even believed that an unplanned trip to Paris right in the middle of a season was perfectly reasonable.
However, he soon realised what was and what was not acceptable in a team environment. It opened the doors to finally finding himself, and not being stuck with the schoolyard labels such as bad or weird kid. He saw therapists, started medication and found some relief to experience fascinating highs, but he found himself going in circles, going back to where he began from.
When his son was born in 2018, Howell found encouragement in his child’s ability to get back up after a fall with a smile on his face. He noticed how kids do not have a single care in this world about what others think of them, and figured he had to change this behaviour in him.
In his quest to find a way out of these circles, he read books and articles, listened to podcasts and learnt not just about ADHD, but also about anything that could improve his then state of mental being. He found the answer in an widely known practice - meditation.
Today, he is one of the most interesting all-rounders in cricket. With close to 50 variations with the ball and an explosive approach with the bat, he makes a great T20 cricketer.
A baseball-fuelled bowling arsenal
The county star who plays for Gloucestershire is often known to churn up an unexpected delivery to an unsuspecting batter. His variations are a combination of different grips, time of release and position of the hand at release, position of seam, pace and in some cases, even spin, to name a few.
He first got intrigued by variations in the United States at a baseball game in Miami between the Marlins and the Philadelphia Phillies. This was when he was playing his first season for Gloucestershire in 2012. While baseball was new to him, he admitted to being absorbed by the variations used by the pitcher.
In an article by Gloucestershire, the medium pacer said, “When I came home I watched lots of videos and then when I went to play in Melbourne I played a bit of baseball. I played for the Melbourne Braves as a pitcher and used that to try some out.”
Then came COVID-19 like a blessing in disguise, and coupled with the hamstring injury, he got ample time to perfect some old variations and try out some new ones. This also went hand-in-hand with his practice of meditation and acceptance of ADHD. He used it in the best way he could - springing surprises with last-moment variations with the delivery.
And even though Howell has a long run-up, he sees himself as a spinner. “I only think like a spinner. I know I go off a long run but I class myself as someone who bowls medium pace spin - I class myself as more of a spin bowler,” he said.
His effort in numbers
Benny Howell was picked by Birmingham Phoenix in the men’s team of the inaugural The Hundred tournament and became an unsung hero in his team’s journey to the Final. He had 11 wickets in six innings, just one less than the table toppers, and an impressive economy of 6.0 in a big-scoring T20 tournament.
He also made a significant mark for Chattogram Challengers in the Bangladesh Premier League, especially with the bat. Howell played 12 games and scored 207 runs at an average of 25.87. He struck at a healthy rate of 154.57 and recorded 13 sixes to his name, the second highest for the team in BPL 2022.
Overall, before coming to the Tata IPL, Howell has played 157 T20 games with 2122 runs scored and 163 wickets scalped.