YOU could probably forgive NSW Country quick Josh Bennett for feeling a little more pressure heading into day one of the Australian Country Cricket Championship in Bundaberg than the rest of his Bush Blues teammates.
Not only is NSW looking to claim back-to-back titles for the first time since 1985-86, Bennett too, in his first year in the Bush Blues side, will today take on his former Australian Capital Territory teammates in the tournament’s opening match.
But the 20-year-old former Orange City paceman quickly dashed any hint of nerves with the kind of excitement usually reserved for a debutante about to run out for the Boxing Day Test at the MCG.
“How good is that,” Bennett, now based in Newcastle, fired looking ahead to the ACT clash.
“There will be a little bit of pressure but I’m looking forward to it more than anything.
“I haven’t seen the team so I’m not sure if there’s many players from last year but I’m sure there will be a couple. I can’t wait.”
NSW, the defending champions, up against the ACT, a largely development outfit, is a first round mismatch of goliath proportions.
Nevertheless, Bennett said both he and his opening bowling partner, Newcastle’s Andrew Maher, are determined to make the most of the perfect opportunity to get the Bush Blues quest for back-to-back titles off to a strong start.
He said the kind of professionalism the Bush Blues displayed in winning last year’s ACCC crown would help carry them again in 2013.
“(NSW) won it last year and they probably weren’t the most popular,” he laughed.
“They played hard and so well. Playing for NSW is going to be a step up.
“You’re expected to perform.”
NSW’s 2012 title was its first since 2008 and followed championship wins in 1985, 1986, 1989, 1990, 1992, 1993, 1996 and 2001.
To add another jewel to the crown in 2013, Bennett said early wickets on “pretty flat” pitches in Bundaberg will be crucial for NSW.
In a good sign, Bennett picked up two wickets in a trial match against a mixed-grade Western Suburbs Sydney Grade Cricket outfit, including a wicket with the first ball of the match, when his side met for a training camp mid December.
Bennett said winning an Australian Country crown would be a surreal experience.
“It’d be massive for myself and NSW,” he said.
“Although they’ve been the dominant team it’s been something like 20 years since the side has won back-to-back championships. It’d be something special to be part of that.”
NSW take on both the ACT and Queensland in two-day matches to open the 12-day championship.
The Bush Blues then take on SA and WA in Twenty20 games before reverting back to the two-day format against an East Asian Pacific side on January 10 and 11.
NSW then plays the Northern Territory and Victoria in two one-day games to finish up its campaign.
In between, an Australian Country XI will take on a Queensland Bulls Invitational XI as the championship’s feature match.
The 2013 ACCC starts today in Bundaberg.