Throughout his career to date, Ben Manenti has always been told he’s the “next in”.
That’s why each year when the Big Bash rolls around, and especially last year when veteran tweaker Steve O’Keefe was injured, he sees it as an opportunity to get an extended run of cricket under his belt.
But in early December last year, after his first game of the season for the Sydney Sixers, scans revealed a crushing blow – he had a “pretty severe” stress fracture in his neck at the C7 vertebrae.
Even then, the 25-year-old off-spinner was pushing hard to play in the Sixers’ return leg against the Hobart Hurricanes three days later, telling skipper Moises Henriques he would bowl through the pain as he’d been doing for the past few games.
“I was trying to convince Moises to pick me, and he was talking to the doctors and the physios, and then he said, ‘Mate, I think you need to talk to the doctors again’,” Manenti told cricket.com.au .
“I was like ‘I’m fine, I’ll just play through it’ and it was when they said to me you’re potentially one bad dive away from not walking again, that’s when it sort of clicked that I’ve probably got to take this a bit more seriously than I currently am.
“They said it was unlikely but there’s a chance that if you land wrong on that neck, you could potentially not walk again. Which the physio and I laugh at a fair bit now because the morning after I got the scan, I was practicing doing diving catches at backward point.
“I would have done 40 or 50 dives that session landing on my shoulders and my back. Having known that now, I was probably a bit stupid at the time.”
Across the entire 2021-22 season, Manenti managed just three appearances at the top level of domestic cricket, which included the highs of his List A and first-class debuts for Tasmania in November and March, and the lows of missing almost the entire KFC BBL season.
“(It) was pretty disappointing because I think I would probably have played a fair chunk of the games with SOK (O’Keefe) getting injured,” Manenti says.
“I was pretty disappointed to miss that block because it would have been my first proper year to really play a full season of Big Bash.
“I’ve never missed anything ever with injury. I played (BBL | 10) with a fractured thumb the whole time and even this year at the start of the Big Bash, it still hadn’t been fixed so I had a cast on that while I was playing.
“And I was on some heavy-ish painkillers for my neck, so my body probably had to give way at some point. I’ve had about seven seasons in a row if you include the winters.”
Manenti, who was out of contract at the end of BBL | 11, has skipped traveling to the UK this off-season to give his body a rest and is hopeful of signing a deal to return to the Sixers again next summer once the contracting embargo lifts later this month.
Having just inked a two-year deal with South Australia, Manenti is chasing the opportunity to finally play every week in a professional setup.
The right-armer says taking the punt on relocating to Tasmania ahead of the 2021-22 season, despite not being contracted, has been the best decision of his career, and he was planning to stay in Hobart playing Premier Cricket with his brother Harry at New Town and stake his claim for another call-up for the Tigers until the Redbacks came knocking about three weeks ago.
– cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) November 1, 2021
“I’ve spent time in England, Sydney and other parts and this (Hobart) has been my best move career wise to date,” he says. “It was probably the fresh air I needed.
“I felt like at NSW I was always told I was the next guy in, I was next in, next in, next in and it didn’t really matter what I did in grade cricket.
“Then when I came down here, (Tasmania) were pretty upfront and honest and they said ‘Look, if you’re taking wickets and scoring runs, you’ll get an opportunity to play Shield and one-day cricket’.”
And the Tigers stuck true to their word, handing the Sydney-born spinner a Marsh Cup debut against Queensland, where he collected 2-43, and a first-class debut against Victoria, where he impressed with match figures of 5-191.
– cricket.com.au (@cricketcomau) March 16, 2022
Had it not been for the stress fracture, Manenti may have played even more games with the Tigers, but he feels satisfied to have finished the season with New Town as they won the first grade premiership for the first time in 52 years.
While confident in his white-ball skillset through his experience in the Big Bash (16 wickets in 22 games for the Sixers), Manenti says his biggest step over the past few seasons has been to transition from limited-overs to four-day cricket with greater ease.
“I’m 25 (years old) now so I’m getting to the stage where if I’m going to play state cricket, it’s got to happen pretty soon,” he says of his decision to move to South Australia.
“I had a bit of a taste of it this year with Tassie and I just wanted to be in a position where that could become more consistent and regular… that was the biggest reason, the opportunity to hopefully be able to play week in, week out in a professional set-up.
“My first aim is to secure a spot in both one-day and Shield cricket, but also do whatever I can to help them win games of cricket consistently.”
The son of former Sydney rugby prop John, who now coaches the Australia men’s Rugby Sevens team, Manenti grew up in inner Sydney and was a bowler pace up until under-10s.
His brother Harry is also a talented cricketer; he was crowned Tasmanian Premier Cricket’s first grade player of the year with 737 runs and 43 wickets for the season and also featured in that premiership side for New Town, one of four first grade flags the pair have won together.
“I was a chubbier kid and my coach was like ‘why don’t you start bowling spin?’,” He recalls.
“From (age) 14 to 16, I played mainly as a batter who bowled a bit and then I got an opportunity to play first grade at Sydney (Cricket Club) – I was playing third grade at the time – and the two spinners above me retired.
“My batting took a backseat for a little while and my bowling took over. The last couple of years I’ve focused a bit more on batting so I’m a bit more pickable for teams.”