Slimmed down Manenti eyes Italian job after Sixers return
Off-spinner joins Mickey Edwards and Hayden Kerr in signing new deals with the defending KFC BBL champions
16 September 2020, 07:01 AM AEST
Having shed nine kilograms in the off-season, Sydney Sixers off-spinner Ben Manenti is hoping to follow his third KFC BBL season with an unconventional international debut next year.
An Italian passport holder, Manenti was set to play at this year's European qualifier tournament in Spain before the coronavirus shutdown cost him that chance as well as another winter playing club cricket in England.
But the 23-year-old made the most of his enforced stay in Sydney, stripping down to just 93 kilograms thanks to a new running regime that has him in the best physical shape of his career.
The son of former Sydney rugby prop John, who now coaches Australia's women's rugby sevens side, Manenti is also solidly built and weighed up to 112kg in his late teens.
But having been denied access to a gym during Australia's initial COVID-19 lockdown, he turned to running as his main source of exercise and challenged his brother, Harry, to see who could run the furthest in a month.
Having proudly pipped his younger sibling by reaching a total of 241kms on the final day of June, Manenti's improved fitness has also led to personal bests on the training track, including shaving more than a minute off his best time in the dreaded 2km time trial.
"I'm definitely as fit as I’ve ever been," says Manenti, who has recommitted to the Sixers for their title defence this summer, joining cult hero Mickey Edwards and allrounder Hayden Kerr in signing new deals on Wednesday.
"I started running a lot through COVID and ... I've actually ended up enjoying it and getting pretty good at it. Even now, I still prefer running to going and lifting in the gym."
Having played 12 games over the past two seasons as a replacement player for Nathan Lyon, Manenti may need to wait his turn again this summer given the Sixers also have star spinners Lyon, Steve O'Keefe and Lloyd Pope on their books.
Lyon's presence in the Sixers squad is both a blessing and a curse for Manenti. He knows he's unlikely to play whenever his fellow off-spinner is available, but Lyon's return from international duty does give the younger man a chance to learn off one of the best bowlers in the world.
It's an opportunity he's relished in the off-season; the pair live close by in Sydney's inner west and have trained together at the local nets during the winter.
And given COVID-19 restrictions mean international stars like Lyon are unlikely to be able to float in and out of the BBL during the summer like they have in previous years, Manenti says he needs to be ready to play every game this season.
"Sometimes you have to sit back and go, 'There are better men than me for the job currently'," Manenti says of Lyon and O'Keefe being picked ahead of him for last season's BBL Final.
"But hopefully this year or in a couple of years' time, I'm the one that's out there doing the same thing.
"It's obviously tough when Nathan is there, we play the same role. But in terms of Lloyd and SOK (O'Keefe), there's no reason why two or three of us can't play in the same side.
"It's a nice show of confidence from the Sixers that they see me as someone to lock into their 18 (before the season)."
While eagerly awaiting the final details of this summer's BBL schedule, Manenti also has half an eye on a return to Europe next year.
He and brother Harry, who has spent the off-season playing club cricket in Darwin and Brisbane, had both committed to play for Italy at an ICC event in May, a tournament that carries full international status and is one of the early qualifying rounds for the 2022 T20 World Cup.
While any future opportunities to represent his grandmother's home country remain clouded due to the pandemic, the chance to become an international cricketer – and join fellow Australians Michael De Venuto and Joe Scuderi in playing for the Italians – is one he's keen to take up.
"I've got absolutely no idea what (the quality) is like, but they're very passionate," he says. "They play against the Netherlands and Germany and Jersey and Guernsey, who are all steady sides.
"I think if cricket gets added to the Olympics in 2032, they want to enter a team in that. I don't know how old that'll make me then.
"But according to the coach, they play cricket all through the streets, so take what you will from that.
"Hopefully it gets opened up again because that'd be a good trip. I know it's not that big a thing, but it'd be an experience, nonetheless."
Sydney Sixers BBL10 squad: Sean Abbott, Jackson Bird, Tom Curran, Ben Dwarshuis, Jack Edwards, Mickey Edwards, Moises Henriques (c), Daniel Hughes, Hayden Kerr, Nathan Lyon, Ben Manenti, Stephen O'Keefe, Josh Philippe, Lloyd Pope, Jordan Silk (three to be named)