We are at the SCG. It’s 1996. A tense ODI between two potent sides has escalated to the final over. Australia requiring just 172 have made a mess of their chances. The West Indies- thanks to Walsh and Ottis Gibson’s terror- have reduced the Aussies to 32-4. That’s when a young 25-year-old walks in. While he’s solidly stuck at one end akin to a fridge magnet, he’s losing out on partners.
The inning that announced Michael Bevan to world cricket
The gold he is wearing- not bling, Australian jersey gold- glows brightly under the Sydney night sky. But can he glitter in the gloom?
On the penultimate delivery, Roger Harper is able to contain the situation and delivers a dot ball. Heartbeats rising and pressure mounting- you just don’t know the fate of Australia. On the final ball of a dilapidated run-chase, 4 are needed.
Then, the left-hander goes back on the crease and lifts the flighted off-spinner down the ground for a boundary. In the immediate aftermath of the contest, he confesses, “I never felt the pressure I guess. I was too consumed with how I was going to do it.”
Michael Bevan: Not a trailblazer, simply a disciplined cricketer
In that moment of immense clarity, Michael Bevan perhaps summed up his approach to the game. It was like an author paying an ode to his finest piece of literature. Yet, refusing to bask in the glory of its triumph.
Bevan was defiant. He was utterly focused and preferred sticking to an air of simplicity. This was both fitting and ironical at the same time. Bevan’s simplicity gave a fitting complement to an era that valued batting rivalries more and cared less for mind-games and theatrics.
Batsmen didn’t wear blue streaks in hair. Camera angles didn’t capture fielders in neon green shoes. And above all, Bevan’s simple conduct was an anomaly in an Australian set-up marked by trailblazers who reveled in their success and never shied away from rubbing their triumphs on their opponents face.
Michael Bevan with his watertight technique and penchant for playing grounded strokes was an anomaly to the ostentatiousness a Shane Warne, Glenn McGrath and Damien Fleming brought. He didn’t even have the aura of a sedately charming Mark Waugh.
No silken drives. No rose-petalled square cuts.
He timed the ball. He ran fast and hard. In more ways, he was the brand ambassador of playing good, clean cricket. He kept his head down when others were losing theirs. And what set him apart was an important construct of the game that is so often ignored.
That of rotating the strike.
Wonder why Bevan hasn’t been coaxed into writing a thesis on how to convert 1s into 2s and 2s into 3s?
He dealt with an exponential growth in the middle of 22 yards sans bursting into big shots that endeavored to fetch fours and sixes.
Michael Bevan wasn’t a flair player
He was more of a ‘stick it out during tough times and bat on’ kind of player. Back in the late 1990s, when commentators hadn’t even templatized the sport, adding a new catchy veneer called ‘finisher’, Bevan was steadily doing what he did best- finishing games.
He often rescued the mighty Australians from the face of unavoidable defeats akin to stealing a meat from the mouth of a hungry prey.
He did that time and again, whether against touring Sri Lankans or Australia’s favourite rivals, New Zealand. And so often, it is forgotten that Bevan too played against the same band of talents that challenged a Tendulkar and Lara often. He played Muralidharan, Allan Donald, Shaun Pollock and Wasim Akram.
And yet, despite being part of a star-studded line-up, having played in an era of dogged Australian invincibility, Bevan never aspired to be the poster boy of his generation.
His average- nearing 54- in ODIs created the yardstick for skilled lower order specialists. It’s been a mighty predecessor to contemporary finishers of the game; such as Dhoni and one of Bevan’s famous compatriots- Mike Hussey.
We owe much of the romanticism of the 1990s as much to Bevan’s death over heroics as any Lara or Ponting specials.
Michael Bevan constructed tall monuments coming in at the lower order using a spirit of stoicism that truly defines greats of the game.
Should the ICC ever pick cricket’s gentleman XI- it would feature names of blokes like Dravid, Collingwood, Stephen Fleming, Atapattu and Bevan.
Implicit in hailing Michael Bevan is the tag that’s stuck to him and often underwhelms his great legacy. Was he just a finisher or an embodiment of the rare values that blokes like Gilchrist and Hussey brought to the game?