Born on May 8, 1970, Michael Bevan was one of the most successful ODI batsmen of all time and a highly dependable finisher of the game. Jaideep Vaidya looks back at the career of the Australian middle-order lynchpin.
Any kid growing up in India in the nineties would have played a cricket cards-game where you trump other contestants with the batting/bowling records of cricketers. One of the most sought after cards in the pack was that of Michael Bevan, with his phenomenal batting average that nestled in the high fifties — better than the rest of the celebrated cricketers. Known as “the finisher” in cricketing circles, Bevan was one of the most trustworthy One-Day International (ODI) batsmen to have ever graced the field and carved a niche for himself in a decade long international career.
Bevan made his First-Class debut for South Australia against Western Australia at the WACA in December 1989, hitting a century in his first innings. “I spent my first two days in the field basically chasing leather and standing at cover watching Geoff Marsh [who scored 355 not out] smash cover-drives past me,” Bevan told The Wisden Cricketer in an interview. Talking about his hundred on a tough WACA surface, Bevan said: “The wicket was like glass. It’s not like that now but back then the ball was still swinging after 80 overs, so it was an unusual experience playing and missing regularly when you were nearing your hundred.”
The retirement of Allan Border in 1994 got Bevan into the Australian national setup and for a 23-year-old, they were pretty big shoes to fill. Bevan’s Test debut came during Australia’s tour of Pakistan that year and he did well by scoring 82 in his first innings after coming in at No 5. It was no mean feat in swinging conditions against bowlers of the calibre of Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. “I remember taking strike against Wasim Akram for my first ball and he nearly took my head off,” recalled Bevan. Even though Australia narrowly lost that match by a solitary wicket and drew the following two Tests, Bevan had a good series, scoring 243 runs in four innings at an average of 60.75.
Amazingly, despite such a bright start to his Test career, Bevan never really clicked in the longer format and went on to play just 18 Tests, scoring 785 runs at a measly average of 29. Critics and pundits put it down to his inability to play the short ball, which was weird because he was such a prolific scorer in ODIs on any surface. Bevan put it down to being a case of a psychological war, rather than technical. “I probably put too much focus on trying to play it [the short ball] well and gave it too much priority. I probably lacked a little belief that I could play it, even though a first-class average of 60 would suggest that it shouldn’t have been a problem,” he said.
Be as it may, Bevan’s ODI average for the majority of his career was double that of his Test figure and was easily the most celebrated and desirable batsman in the 50-over format. Coming to bat in the middle order, Bevan was truly a captain’s delight and a rock-solid lynchpin — an immovable boulder in the path of the opposition — who was as obdurate as a mule when it came to his batting. If putting a prize on your wicket was more factual than metaphorical, Bevan’s would be the million-dollar bumper bonanza.
Bevan was an effective hitter who loved playing in the ‘V’ and constantly bombarded the deep mid-wicket boundary as well. His cover drive was a delight to watch and he also brought in an element of cheekiness to his strokeplay with delicate nudges past the ‘keeper. A constant innovator, Bevan was one of the first exponents of the helicopter shot, made popular and commercial by Indian captain MS Dhoni in the years to come.
Bevan’s ODI career is decorated with numerous match-winning finishes. One of the most memorable ones came at the Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) in 1996 when Bevan almost single-handedly pulled Australia out of the doldrums when they were 74 for seven, chasing 173. Bevan scored 78 from 89 balls and took Australia home with a boundary off the last ball of the match, off Roger Harper, to spark rapturous scenes at the SCG. “The game is like my tied Test,” he wrote in From the Best of Bevan. “It seems this night will always be my signature piece in cricket.”
Another unforgettable knock at the SCG came six years later against Australia’s neighbours and arch rivals — the Kiwis. Bevan himself rates this knock higher than the one against the Windies: “We were under the pump and were looking as though we were going to miss out on the finals [of the triangular series]. They got about 240; we were six for 80-odd and I got 100. Chasing a large total like that under that sort of pressure was a really enjoyable, satisfying experience.”
However, the icing is probably taken by Bevan’s 185 not out playing for a Rest of World (RoW) side against an Asian XI in Dhaka, 2000. RoW were chasing 321 for victory and were reeling at 196 for seven in 37 overs, when Bevan combined with England’s Andrew Caddick for a 119-run stand that all but got them to a remarkable win. Caddick’s lethargy got himself run-out in the last over of the innings, with seven required from two balls, and Bevan’s boundary off the last ball wasn’t enough this time around to take his team through. Bevan described it as “pound for pound the best innings I have played”, in an interview with ESPNcricinfo, “for the kind of shots and how I hit them. That was a bit of a buzz.”
In spite of all his marvels in the 50-over format, Bevan did not regard himself as purely a one-day specialist, rather a product of his exploits and failures in the longer format. “I never saw myself as being just a one-day player. It’s just a tag I was given and have to live with. I guess when I first started I hoped I would play 100 Tests, but obviously it didn’t pan out that way,” he said.
Bevan listed planning as one of his core strengths and played with a simple policy that if he was there till the end, his team would win the match more often than not. “I felt that was a strength of mind — planning, strategy and making the right decisions. Even when it looks hard to score, it’s about being disciplined and carrying out your plans. One of my goals was to be there till the end. I figured that if I was there till the end we would win more matches than we lost. Of course, I didn’t score a run a ball every minute, but that was my goal.”
Pressure was Bevan’s adversary and he always told himself that there were going to be instances when his team would lose a match. “Pressure is the thing that makes people make mistakes and costs matches. I always try to say to myself that we are going to lose some matches. So I never try to put too much pressure on myself.”
Bevan was part of the victorious Australian team in the 1999 and 2003 World Cups, before patchy form led him to be dropped from the squad in 2004. This was in spite of playing a match-winning 74 not out in the 2003 World Cup that led his team past the line over England in a pool match. Bevan went back to playing for his beloved state team, New South Wales. He played there for three seasons before a string of injuries got the better of him as he eventually decided to call it quits in 2007.
And so ended a career with a batting average of 53.58 — the highest for any retired player — in 232 ODIs that fetched 6,912 runs, including six centuries and 46 fifties. The baton, coincidentally, was passed to his namesake — a player that went by the name of Michael Hussey who, until he earned himself the moniker of “Mr Cricket” in the years to come, was initially referred to as “the next Bevan.”
(Jaideep Vaidya is a multiple sports buff and a writer at CricketCountry. He has a B.E. in Electronics Engineering, but that isn’t fooling anybody. He started writing on sports during his engineering course and fell in love with it. The best day of his life came on April 24, 1998, when he witnessed birthday boy Sachin Tendulkar pummel a Shane Warne-speared Aussie attack from the stands during the Sharjah Cup Final. A diehard Manchester United fan, you can follow him on Twitter @jaideepvaidya. He also writes a sports blog - The Mullygrubber )