Cricket: The run-punch cocktail

Graeme Wright watches a batsman broad of hat and strokeplaying skill
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With his broad-brimmed sun hat pushed up off his forehead, Michael Bevan looks as if he should be out riding fences. But like the hard case in the song, punching cows is not his metier. Punching runs is what he does best, and yesterday the 27-year-old New South Welshman was at his very best, rescuing Australia from a model of their own making.

On as large a ground as The Oval, mind you, punching runs is like stealing candy from the proverbial child. Wherever Mike Atherton positioned his fielders, there inevitably widening angles into which Bevan, and also Adam Gilchrist, could work the ball. Nor did Bevan with his speed over the first 20 yards, waste any time converting singles into doubles. He had only six fours in his 108 not out, which indicates a fair amount of scampering in his two and a half hour innings. Given the run-out count against Australia, it also represented a degree of risk.

It would be tempting (might even be charitable) to put the rash of run- outs down to the nerves in the Australian camp after their defeat at Headingley on Thursday. Yet it was such poor basic cricket that it might also say something about Australia's attitude, however subconscious, to one-day cricket since they lost the World Cup final to Sri Lanka in March last year.

In Australia last winter they failed to reach the finals of their own World Series tournament, and is just possible that, as world champions of Test cricket they feel they can view the truncated game as something to play for the fun of it, rather than sweat blood and tears over. Not that Mark Taylor was unduly entertained when Mark Waugh sent him back to face his fate. The Australian skipper had just put bat to ball in a way that boosts your confidence when your account is overdrawn at the run bank.

"Our game's not quite there at the moment," Taylor conceded, "but today was better than Thursday. I'd hoped we'd run into the form we had in South Africa, but the form of the one-dayers will not decide the form of the Test matches. We've got to be ready to go on 5 June."

Atherton agreed that the Test matches would provide "a different scenario", but while acknowledging that Australia showed improvement yesterday he added with a grin: "I think we stepped up our game a bit as well. We've controlled both games pretty well and we're enjoying the moment."

Having seen Gilchrist, and Mike Kasprowicz when they were here in 1991 with the under-19 side, it was interesting to review their progress. Gilchrist's languid left-hander's stroke play did not disappoint but Kasprowicz looks as if he has some way to go. Six years ago he floated in and stung like a bee. Yesterday it looked like hard work, although if England's batsmen build on their performances to date, Australia's bowlers will become familiar with hard work.