Aaron William Benjamin's cricket journey – from Sri Lanka to UAE via Botswana
Left-arm fast bowler hopes to play for senior team soon
Given the make-up of the population, it is no surprise UAE cricket has long been inhabited by players who learnt the sport somewhere else first.
The national team itself consists of a mix of players, some who grew up here and others who arrived as ready-made cricketers, usually from Pakistan, India or Sri Lanka.
One emerging player who aspires to represent the UAE in international cricket has taken a unique route.
If Aaron William Benjamin does make it to the senior team, having already played Under 19 representative cricket, he will be the first to have got their via the lesser-trodden path from Botswana.
The left-arm fast-bowler was born in Sri Lanka, but his family moved to the southern African country when he was just a year old, after his father Andrew’s job in accounting took him there.
Growing up in a Sri Lankan family, it is no shock he took to cricket, and by the time he was 12 he had already made Botswana’s U15 side.
The family moved again, this time to Dubai in 2015, and Benjamin won age-group honours here, too, more or less as soon as he was eligible.
If the rules of allegiance feel confused, imagine how the teenager himself feels.
He has represented two countries internationally at sport, and is still eligible for a third – yet knows the words to none of their national anthems.
“Honestly? None of them,” Benjamin, 19, said when asked if he has a working knowledge of the anthems of Sri Lanka, Botswana or UAE.
“When I was young [in Botswana], we had to know it for school, but now I can’t remember anything.
“And I came too late to UAE to learn Arabic at school, so that is another one [that will need working on].”
There was a time when Benjamin’s particular skill – left-arm seam – was scarce in the UAE.
No bowler of that type has had an extended run in the team since Manjula Guruge, who played his last game in 2015.
Now, though, there is a queue of them, with Mohammed Ayaz, Shiraz Ahmed and Deshan Chethiya all vying for attention.
Benjamin is under no illusions over his place in the pecking order, but he does hope to be noticed once lockdown is over and cricket can return to normality.
I rolled up to practice, and immediately everyone was interested as I was bowling a little bit faster than a lot of the other guys
Aaron William Benjamin
Since cricketers were allowed to return to nets, under social distance guidelines, he has been training with two senior team regulars, Vriitya Aravind and Basil Hameed.
He is lucky Aravind, his colleague form age-group cricket, is still speaking to him
“The last time I hit someone with a bouncer was in September, in the U19 Asia Cup,” Benjamin said.
“The problem was, it was in our own net session. I hit Vriitya on the neck. It was the scariest thing.
“We had a match the next day. He still went to play, but I was so scared.
"He looked OK, but you could see in his eyes he was phased.”
All that said, Benjamin says he does get a thrill from being able to bowl fast.
He grew up wanting to emulate Lasith Malinga’s skills and Mitchell Johnson’s pace.
And his ability to bowl fast initially helped him win friends when he arrived from Botswana.
“It was a bit tough, and it took me a while to get used to not having my friends around all the time,” said Benjamin, who is studying business and economics at Middlesex University in Dubai.
“Eventually, you get over it and make new friends.
“I didn’t know it would be easy to make friends at cricket practice, as everyone seemed really intimidating.
“I rolled up to practice, and immediately everyone was interested as I was bowling a little bit faster than a lot of the other guys. That made it easy to ease into the system.”
There was a possibility he might have been lost to the system again.
He had been offered the chance to go to Sri Lanka for a trial after being spotted by a talent scout there, only for it to fall through because of the pandemic.
For now, though, he is just keen to get back out playing again.
“I’m just playing cricket because I love it, but if that opportunity did come [to represent UAE at senior level], I’d obviously take it,” he said.
“Playing for your country is a really big deal. Even if I was just called up for camp, it would be great.”
Updated: June 29, 2020 09:22 AM