Andy Bichel, born August 27, 1970, was one of Australia’s finest seamers who found himself on the fringes for a considerable period owing to stiff competition at the time. A stand-by bowler to the likes of Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee, Bichel stole the spotlight during the 2003 World Cup with rip-roaring performances in both departments of the game. Karthik Parimal looks back at the career of this speedster from Queensland.
Being relegated to the sidelines, time and again, can be exasperating. For a 12th man in cricket, the drain of watching all day (and five days in Tests) and being alert to the team’s needs throughout can be demanding as well. Although there isn’t an official list, it’s possibly Andy Bichel — born on this day in 1970 — who was subject to this consuming task the most. Albeit from the 19 Test caps he earned, he carried drinks for Australia on 19 occasions, apparently the most by any player. Had his career not coincided with Australia’s golden phase, his contributions would perhaps have been described under a different light.
Hailing from Queensland, Bichel’s rise through the ranks in First-Class cricket was impressive. Nevertheless, a majority of his time was spent knocking on the doors of the national side. Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie deservedly occupied the two mandatory spots available for fast bowlers and Bichel’s services were hence sporadically needed. On quick surfaces, he was roped in as the third seamer, but a young fast bowler by the name of Brett Lee soon came to the fore and gave Bichel a run for his money. With age and speed comfortably on his side, Lee more often than not usurped the one berth that was available. Bichel broached the 140 kph mark, but Lee was consistently 10 kph quicker.
During the initial stages of his career, when picked, Bichel seldom stood out. In One-Day Internationals (ODIs), he proved to be expensive and wickets came in a trickle. After a two-year hiatus, he returned fitter and effective. Owing to the camaraderie in the Australian dressing-room under Steve Waugh, Bichel was fortunately exempted from monotonous 12th man tasks and given a chance to sharpen his skills in the nets and occasionally have a day off. These intermittent selections enabled him to operate at his highest gear whenever he was chosen in the playing eleven. He responded with a maiden five-wicket haul, in the absence of Lee, against West Indies in the Boxing Day Test of 2000.
The surge in 2000, sadly, turned out to be a false dawn, although it had less to do with his form and more with the selectors’ inexplicable moves. Lee returned and Bichel was duly made to warm the benches again. His next appearance was, incidentally, in the Boxing Day Test of 2001, this time against South Africa. He picked four scalps but was, yet again, axed for the next fixture. Decisions such as these prompted Waugh to realise that Bichel was, in his experience, the guy who suffered most from carrying the drinks for an extended time for no fault of his own. However, the only thing Bichel often earned was his teammates’ sympathy; a permanent spot in the side continued to elude him.
One of the reasons why Bichel, like Michael Kasprowicz, was often cast aside is because he was willing to sacrifice himself for the betterment of the team. When Waugh was at the helm, he was often expected to make tough calls alongside the selectors in the green room and an explanation he comes up with in his autobiography Out of My Comfort Zone, pertaining to Bichel’s exclusion, is as follows: “Whenever they were involved in line-ball decisions at the selectors’ table, it was perceived that they [Bichel and Kasprowicz] would take a demotion in the right spirit and better than the other candidate. They never did whinge or drop their bundle, and both played a major role in setting the benchmarks of character and building the pyramid of success the current  Australian side continues to maintain.”
Bichel, indeed, was a man of affable character. During a Test against Bangladesh, the Australian bowlers were found wanting and as the score raced past 150 for the loss of one wicket, Bichel hurriedly headed in the direction of Lee during a drinks break and gave him a few pointers to help correct the technical flaw. Lee struck back and the Australians were soon on course for a comfortable win. “The victory was outshone by one man, whose attitude genuinely showed he could put aside personal ambitions for the good of the side and, even further, do so in a manner that could jeopardise his own cricket future,” Waugh writes on the incident.
Bichel’s career constituted a few noteworthy crests too, his claim to fame being his heroics in both departments of the game during the 2003 World Cup. He boarded the flight to South Africa as a stand-by bowler to McGrath, Gillespie and Lee, but was thrust to the fore when Gillespie was ruled out of the tournament owing to an injury. In his first match against England, he took seven for 20 — had McGrath not taken seven for 15 against Namibia a week earlier, Bichel’s figures would have been the best for Australia in ODIs —before dropping anchor while batting alongside Michael Bevan to steer his side to a famous win.
In the Super Six match against New Zealand, he walked in to bat with Australia’s score on 84 for seven and thwacked a career-best 64, with Bevan at the other end yet again, to help win the game. Although he didn’t take a wicket in the semi-final against Sri Lanka, his bowling figures during that fixture read 10-4-18-0. Without his services, Australia’s road to World Cup triumph would have certainly been arduous.
After the high in 2003, Bichel’s performance graph took a dip. Nonetheless, although deemed handy, the powers that be decided not to renew his contract. He last donned the national colours in the February of 2004, but, unlike other axed or retired cricketers, did not fade into obscurity. He went back to the domestic circuit, winning the Player of the Year award in 2005, and continued to be a force until the end of the 2008 season. The ‘Smiling Assassin’ finally called it quits in the February of 2009, but remained close to the game by offering his services as a bowling coach to Indian Premier League (IPL) franchise Chennai Super Kings (CSK).
(Karthik Parimal, a Correspondent with CricketCountry, is a cricket aficionado and a worshipper of the game. He idolises Steve Waugh and can give up anything, absolutely anything, just to watch a Kumar Sangakkara cover drive. He can be followed on Twitter at https://twitter.com/karthik_parimal)