Manenti makes good on his SA ambitions

1 month ago Cricket Australia

The ambition Ben Manenti brought to Adelaide when he joined South Australia's struggling men's cricket outfit last year was partially realised over the course of a few hours earlier this week.

It wasn't the 61 runs he slugged off 39 balls in Wednesday's Marsh One Day Cup loss to ladder leaders Western Australia, nor the key wicket he claimed with his evolving off-spin on the final afternoon of SA's Sheffield Shield clash against the same pacesetting rival days earlier.

Even the stunning slips catch he snared to remove WA's Test-capped all-rounder Hilton Cartwright, thereby paving the way to the Redbacks' first Marsh Sheffield Shield win at Adelaide Oval in three years, was self-deprecatingly characterised more 'handy' than a highlight.

Instead, it was the celebration in SA's dressing rooms that followed their 164-run win over the reigning Shield champions – the first such victory party that space has hosted since February 2020 – that Manenti viewed as vindication for his move from Tasmania prior to the current season starting.

Having spent the previous 18 months "on the road" after leaving his home state of New South Wales for Hobart in search of greater opportunities, Manenti subsequently arrived in Adelaide initially looking for somewhere "to settle in and call home".

But having earned regular selection in SA's red and white-ball line-ups this season, as well as half a dozen outings for Adelaide Strikers in the BBL, the hard-hitting allrounder is able to fully focus on the other aspiration he nurtured in his newly adopted state.

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"As I said when I first came over, my priority was to win games of cricket for South Australia," Manenti told this week.

"We've been perceived as not doing that over the last couple of years, so that was my ambition.

"It's really nice to do well individually along the way, but there's not too many better feelings than what we had Monday night after we knocked them (WA) over in the Shield.

"Obviously the aim is to rinse and repeat that as many times as we can, and if I do well along the way that's a bonus.

"As long as I'm playing my part in the team winning, I can't complain and it's going well at the moment."

The fact Manenti alluded to the celebrations of Monday "night" after SA's second win in as many Shield games – the first time they've secured back-to-back wins in three summers – was completed mid-afternoon provides an insight into the result's significance.

It's also very much on-brand for the 25-year-old whose resemblance to yeoman cricketers of yore extends beyond his current 1970s-style moustache.

Manenti is renowned for embracing on and off-field celebrations with similar gusto he applies to muscling half-trackers over mid-wicket, and his large personality was a key reason SA coach Jason Gillespie was keen to add him to his squad that's over-represented by introverts.

Another factor in the Redbacks recruiting move last year was Manenti's prowess as a slips catcher, with SA's data analysts identifying the men's team inability to hold low catches behind the wicket as a distinct weakness in 2022-23 when they claimed their fifth consecutive Shield wooden spoon.

Manenti concedes the faith placed in his slips catching ability might have been somewhat presumptive, given he had rarely fielded in the position for the preceding season or two after suffering a fractured thumb that left him somewhat "gun shy".

Manenti snaffles Cartwright with super reflexes

He has since justified the faith, reeling in some spectacular grabs including a stunning one-hander against Tasmania earlier in the summer and Monday's crucial catch from Cartwright off Brendan Doggett where he was forced to move late to his left having been partially obscured by keeper Harry Nielsen standing up to the stumps.

His only blemish so far this season came early in WA's first innings last week when he turfed a sharp but catchable chance off opener Cameron Bancroft from the bowling of Nathan McAndrew before the former Test batter had scored.

"I was pretty disappointed when I spilled that one, I didn't actually get a hand on it – it hit me flush on the knee, did me for pace," Manenti said.

"That was the first one I've spilled this year.

"But I'm doing a lot of catching at the moment, trying to work on that so it's nice to see it pay off."

While his catching capacity might have helped seal the deal to lure him from Hobart where Manenti had struggled to land a regular spot in Tasmania's Shield and one-day teams and a neck injury had robbed him of opportunities with Sydney Sixers in the BBL, his ability with bat and ball was also appealing.

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The Manenti name had previously gained prominence in Adelaide at the final of the National Premier T20 Championships in 2020, the last iteration of the fledgling competition before it became a victim of the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, on that day it was Ben's younger brother, Harry, who blazed to notoriety by belting consecutive sixes in the decider's final over to carry the brothers' Sydney outfit to the title against Adelaide University.

Harry's older sibling had earned a similar reputation for boundary clearing in his time with the Sixers but his batting has now developed to the point he is currently SA's fifth-highest scorer in the Shield competition for 2022-23 with 273 runs (at 34.12) from his nine knocks.

In the Marsh One Day Cup arena he's proved even more effective, with his career-high 61 this week lifting his strike rate for the summer to 123.25 per 100 balls faced, which is the highest for any player who has batted more than once in the current 50-over tournament.

But beyond Manenti's presence as a reliable and rapid-scoring addition to SA's lower-middle order, it's the right-armer's off-spin that has perhaps been most valuable as the Redbacks have hauled themselves into contention for both the Shield and one-day titles.

With 17 Shield wickets from his 10 appearances – behind quicks Wes Agar (28) and McAndrew (18) this summer for SA – and eight in the Marsh Cup (second to Henry Thornton's 11 for the Redbacks), Manenti's role with the ball has proved crucial to his team's strategy.

Having invested heavily in seam-bowling options with a view to building a stable of quicks around whom the Redbacks' game plan revolves, Manenti has shown himself to be more than merely a part-time option to provide the fast men with a spell.

He has worked closely with SA's assistant coaches Luke Butterworth (bowling) and Steve Stubbings (batting) to further develop his craft, and gleaned much from former South Africa and South Australia skipper Johan Botha during the BBL stint both recently completed with Adelaide Strikers.

Manenti revealed much of the work he's done with the off-field brainstrust has related to bowling tactics rather than technique, noting that currently he's being asked to lock-in from one end to enable the roster of pace bowlers to roll through from the other.

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"I think the wicket here at Adelaide actually suits our fast bowlers, the thatch grass means they can nip it around quite nicely," he said.

"So a lot of the time I'm playing a holding role, which is fine, I'm happy to do that.

"We're trying to head in a certain direction with the way we play our cricket, and it will take a bit of time but it's definitely heading positively.

"Hopefully next week down at the Junction (against Victoria in the Shield game starting Monday) it spins and I can play a bit more of a role there.

"At the end of the year I'll have a look technically at my bowling, and there's always stuff you can work on and stuff you can follow.

"There's two pretty good spinners playing for Australia who bowl off-spin (Nathan Lyon and Todd Murphy) who are good to watch and learn from.

"So there's always stuff you can work on technically, but tactically they (Butterworth, Stubbings and Botha) are the three guys I'm going to.

"We've also got a lot of experienced cricketers in our squad, and when Heady (SA skipper Travis Head) and (Test keeper Alex) Carey are back they're an added bonus, so I've got plenty of resources here to work on that with.

"But this is my first year playing all three formats, so it's a learning experience while also trying to compete and put together some wins."

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