Cricket likes a good nickname.
Probably one of those things that won’t change.
In an era so dependable on alter-egos, where superheroes stroke our imagination sub-consciously, it’s considered cool, almost ‘unfashionable’ not to have a moniker.
The game has been privileged to have ‘The Don’ embrace it, the way it’s fortunate to have had Murali’s ‘magician’ or Sachin’s “God”.
But do nicknames alone carry all that importance?
Who can deny that Cricket attributes even greater importance to different roles?
It may not be wrong to state that among the many roles, the job of a ‘finisher’ carries great responsibility.
It’s a term that, in recent times, is best represented by MS Dhoni.
It’s a term that in the late 2000s perhaps best described Michael Hussey.
But long before it became even fashionable to use the term ‘finisher‘, one man came to epitomize the sobriquet in all honesty.
In Michael Bevan, there was a bloke who stayed put for long hours, draw contentment from the grind, and appeared a wily customer to bowlers.
In a team of dashing batsmen, he served as the negotiator; the one who fought opponents to give his team a fighting chance.
You could get Ponting, Waugh, Gilchrist early. But it wasn’t over until Michael Bevan had been dismissed.
The provider of vital runs on a day where they didn’t come easy.
Yet, for some reason, those celebrity-esque theories that hail the contribution of the greatest leg-spinner in Warne, the dangerous McGrath, the exemplary leader in Steven Waugh, and the classy Mark Waugh strangely forget Michael Bevan, as if a constant noise-machine suddenly went mute.
For someone who almost always averaged over 44 (in ODIs) until his final year, circa 2004, but averaged over 64 for half of his career, Michael Bevan seemed the earner of straight-As, his runs those top grades students long for.
In a game obsessed with stats, Michael Bevan reserved less for his glowing numbers – 6,900 ODI runs, 9 hundreds – and remained concerned with art of pacing an inning.
Rare it is to find individuals concerned more with the process than its results.
To a team that knocked over opponents at the back of a match-winning pair in Hayden and Langer, made cricket a beautiful art form at the behest of Warne’s rippers and Ponting’s powerful pulls, Michael Bevan provided the good old-fashioned fight on days where things didn’t go Australia’s way.
A quiet, thinking cricketer, who often took matters in his own hands when the fancier lot had failed to dictate terms.
A man who loved to remain busy in the middle, for that’s where he felt he belonged; not a big risk taker or ‘fire up a mad six‘ cricketer, but the man with the eternal 1s and 2s.
Someone who epitomized the dying art of batting time or the ability to hold one end during duress, an attribute surely not considered as attractive as the switch hit during a powerplay.
And that he did that time and again, made him a competitor strong enough to be warranted greater merit than flows his way.
For instance, consider the brilliant 102 from 95 balls in 2002, an inning that kept Australia’s hopes of qualifying for the finals alive against New Zealand.
He brought Australia the big respite in a torrid summer where they’d gone winless on 6 previous games against familiar rivals New Zealand.
But which Bevan inning had a greater impact in sealing his reputation as the guy who’d come in and drag Australia from the jaws of defeat- was it the heroism at MCG or the valiance at the SCG where he scored 78*- we still don’t know.
In a 1996 B&H series contest against the West Indies, he fired 78 of his team’s 173 runs under lights and amid great uncertainty having arrived with his team in shambles at 32 for 4.
The most heroic feats in cricket, one reckons, are achieved when the improbable happens on the ultimate ball of a contest.
Just that Michael Bevan chose one such night to bring Australia home in a contest where it seemed all was lost when 11 were needed off 7, and it didn’t cut too inspiring a figure to note McGrath at the other end.
In a contest where Chanderpaul, Adams, both the Waughs and Ponting failed to get runs, Michael Bevan initiated a rearguard action countering a West Indies with fire-breathing monsters in Ambrose and Walsh.
But Michael Bevan did more than just pave way for rescue acts for Australia.
In an age where sledging was as rampant as a Sachin or Lara century, where Australia so often spewed venom at opponents, Michael Bevan showed there was a sense in abstaining from the unwanted drama.
He instead opted for dexterity, using those foxy slow-left arm ‘chinaman’ deliveries to stake a larger contribution in the game, taking 65 international wickets from 3,251 deliveries.
That said nothing can ever complete the Michael Bevan story without reflecting on the shiny attribute that made him a headlining material of sorts.
In an age where the game was about this rivalry between Lara and Sachin, where it often boiled down to a war between an Akram+ Waqar against Sachin or an Ambrose+Walsh against Atherton+Fairbrother, the left-hander fired an equalizer of sorts with his deeds.
When it seemed that all that mattered the most was the runs and wickets column, Michael Bevan widened our awareness, pointing to the “not out” department.
In 67 of his 196 ODI outings, he emerged unbeaten, as if paying testimony to the great unconquerable Australian spirit.
All of this beckons a question. In an age of excessive tweeting, where the term ‘great’ is packaged around any cricketing mortal, have we undervalued those like Michael Bevan who relish the grind and true fight?