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Why Michael Bevan is considered the greatest of all time

Michael Bevan often led his team to victory in the company of tail-enders
Aadya Sharma

Before the razzmatazz of T20s, batting was not just about muscling the ball all over the park. Despite low scores, matches did use to go down to the wire, and batting down the order was more of a crafty art than a slide-show of brazen strokes.

In an Australian side which grew from strength to strength through the 90s, Michael Bevan was a vital cog in the middle order, a purveyor of calmness who mixed a level head with cheeky innovation. He established a reputation of being one of the most trusted finishers in the game, constantly churning up game-changing performances in the concluding overs.

Growing up on the big grounds in Australia, he developed a game which revolved around running between the stumps and finding gaps. He was highly effective down the ground, but also had a strong leg side game, especially his swipes to mid-wicket. On the off side too, his cover drives were as fluent as most left-handers in the business. Yet, more than that, the calm that he brought to the crease, and the calculated approach by which he overhauled targets made him nonpareil.

The original ‘finsher’

His ODI career was peppered with innings of absolute masterclass. One such knock was against the West Indies at the SCG in 1996. Chasing a target of 173 from 43 overs, Australia were down in the dumps after Healy’s dismissal, tottering at 74-7. Bevan, at No.6, forged a crucial partnership with Paul Reiffel, taking his team to the last over with 7 runs remaining. With wickets tumbling at the other side, Bevan shepherded the strike to face the last ball, and with four runs remaining and nine wickets down, drilled the ball straight down the ground to hand Australia an improbable victory. This was just the start of things to come.

Away from the Baggy Green, he scored an unbeaten 185 while representing Rest of the World against an Asia XI at Dhaka in 2000. Yet again, he came in with the chips down, combining with Andy Caddick when his team was stuck at 196-7 after 37 overs. Their 119 run stand helped the RoW come within inches of the target. With 20 runs required and support diminishing at the other end, Bevan hit three boundaries but the team fell a mere one run short of the target.

Among others, he played another scintillating knock for Australia, this time against the Kiwis, in 2002. Facing ouster from the triangular series, the team was staring down the barrell at 84-6 in their pursuit of 246. Bevan came to the rescue again, compiling a 95-ball 102 and forging crucial partnerships down the order with Warne, Lee and Bichel.

One year later, he was back at it again, this time in a World Cup group match against England. Chasing 204 to win, Australia looked down and out at 135-8. Playing despite a groin injury, Bevan combined with Bichel and finished the chase with three balls to spare, remaining unbeaten on 74.

Setting small targets

He was part of two successful World Cup campaigns, and attributed his success to backing his strengths and setting small, achievable targets. Modern chasers take a cue from the same and split big targets into small segments, but the original chase-master brought this into fashion back in the mid-90s. He believed in targeting loose balls to score off, instead of swinging at each delivery. With constant strike rotation, he would never let the pressure reach his head, and would somehow squeeze out a boundary to pull the run-rate back in control. Keeping these simple things in mind, Bevan would occasionally stay unbeaten till the end, taking his team past the finishing line.

Bevan’s career was not just a compilation of a few match-winning knocks, the statistics showed an almost unfailing consistency. He finished his 232-match ODI career with 6912 runs, at an average of 53.58, the most for a retired batsman.

He was also a fine fielder and a more than useful chinaman bowler. Yet, most teams would take him in just on the basis of his batting attributes. In an era where pinch hitting was gaining ground, Bevan de-constructed the art of chasing and finished as one of the greatest.

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Edited by Staff Editor

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