The unlimited ambition of a one-day wonder

Benson & Hedges Cup: Bevan still burning to prove he is not only the best short-game batsman in the world
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The Independent Online

Michael Bevan was lying face down on the massage table. The physiotherapist was "releasing tight structures" in Bevan's lean, muscular body, and it was hurting. "They say 'no pain, no gain'," grunted Bevan. A naturally laconic manner in which words are used sparingly, as though each of them costs money, was exaggerated in the plain, cream-painted room at the cricket ground in Hove.

We were talking about Sachin Tendulkar, the only cricketer in the world who is ranked in the same class as Bevan in one-day international cricket. The question was whether there was any difference in the way the two play the game. "I think the difference is that he averages 60 in Tests and I average 30," he replied.

Bevan's exact Test average is 29.07 in 30 innings. He has not played in a Test since January 1998, and his failure to play in the Australian Test team hurts far more than the physio. Last month in Dhaka, Bevan scored a breathtaking 181 not out for the Rest of the World, failing by a yard to clear the boundary for a six off the last ball that would have won the one-day game to celebrate World Cricket Week. Technically, he says, he has probably never hit the ball so well, but it is not a triumph that lingers long in his mind.

"People who don't want to delve into it too deeply say that I'm just a one-day player. But I've got goals and one of those is to be a great Test player for my country. That's my ultimate goal. Tests are the purest kind of cricket, and it's the form most players enjoy best. I know I do." It is not too late. Bevan is 30 tomorrow, and he still brings an intensity to the ambition that never lets up. "Every time I go out to bat I work towards my goal. It keeps me interested and wanting to score a lot of runs," he says.

In four innings in one-day cricket for Sussex this spring, Bevan has scored 333 runs for once out, including 157 not out against Essex at Chelmsford ("a very good wicket"). The next county in line for the Bevan treatment are Gloucestershire in a Benson & Hedges quarter-final at Hove on Tuesday. With so much one-day cricket played in the English season, it is hard to name another overseas player who is as influential.

Sussex were idle last week, and Bevan was lying on the massage table as part of hisrecovery programme. He has been a professional cricketer for 10 years; he scored a century on his Sheffield Shield debut in 1989-90 and has scored prolifically ever since, averaging 54.62 in first-class cricket. But the strain on the body is alarming. Bevan is considered very fit, but before he goes to bat he tapes his knees, a wrist and a finger or two. He was on the table to attend to some of the niggles that happen when you play cricket continuously for two years.

He wore only a pair of padded rubber underpants (to keep warm), and Stuart Osborne, the Sussex physio, started with a little acupuncture on the knees. Bevan's short sentences are punctuated with soft cries: "Aaah, Oooh, Awach." He had a reputation as a gym freak, but he has not been able to go regularly for the past two or three years. "Because most of my time is spent playing cricket, I don't get as much time as I would like for maintenance."

Bevan's problem, if you like, is that he is so good at the demotic one-day game, which is popular and profitable. He arrived in Brighton via Bangladesh and South Africa, but the length of the journey and the familiarity of the format has not yet blunted his appetite for more. He is clinical about his summer's work as Sussex's overseas player: "It depends what the county is trying to achieve. I think batsmen can win one-day matches, and bowlers win the County Championship. I see my role as winning as many one-day games as possible for Sussex." He has already won a couple in theB & H, against Hampshire and Essex.

Bevan appreciates that his special quality as a one-day cricketer is consistency. In 125 one-day international innings he has scored 4,621 runs - including four hundreds and 32 fifties - at an average of 57.04. "I have found a formula that works for me. I know what I want to do when I go out there. In Test cricket, you can take it slow, or you can take it fast. It's up to you. In one-day cricket you're dictated to, at what speed you will travel and how many runs you have to score. It's just a case of working out how you've got to score those runs."

In Dhaka, the Rest of the World needed 125 off the last 13 overs, so Bevan's hundred included seven fours and three sixes. In that innings he was more, not less, like Tendulkar. "He opens the batting and that is a bit different from batting down the order, especially nowadays when you're hitting as many fours as you can in the first 15 overs. I quite often get in around the 10th over, and I'll try for fours then, but when I'm batting at six and the field's back, I score more singles." Of his 125 innings, 44 have been not out. Most of his innings for Australia have been at number six - he batted six during last summer's World Cup - but Steve Waugh has moved him up the order to four. "I enjoy batting up the order," he says.

This is his sixth season in England; he played a couple of years in Lancashire leagues, then for Yorkshire, before joining Sussex in 1998. (He missed last year because of the World Cup.) He has been made vice-captain, and I suggested that his employment was not entirely a mercenary activity. He found this entertaining, and replied: "Not entirely, no." He was paid £75,000 two years ago; it won't be less this year. He likes Brighton, which is big enough to swallow him. Bevan does not get recognised in the street, as he is in Sydney.

I wondered what he would do if he were appointed dictator of English cricket. "I'd buy a BMW," he replied. What he would do next is play less cricket. "There's a hell of a lot of cricket here. We play 10 Shield games in Australia. You get a week to recover between matches. You feel refreshed every time you start. I think you've got to give players a chance to rest and recover, especially fast bowlers. A majority of fast bowlers get injured towards the end of the season here. I think something like 12 or 13 County Championship games would be ideal."

Stuart Osborne began to work on the small of Bevan's back and his hips now, and the volume of the groans was rising. But he treats his body as a tool of his trade. Like most Australian cricketers, he is single-minded about the game: "Being a cricketer is all I wanted to do, so I was going to do it, from an early age." Bevan is unsentimental and romantic at the same time. He has a small daughter and the family live in Hove for the summer, but that is only a brief bout of togetherness. "If you want any family time, don't be a cricketer," he says. He is a dedicated professional sportsman who makes lists of what he needs to be best at cricket: "It's a number of things: being fit enough to be on the park, making sure you set yourself challenges." The other one is enjoyment.

Last week, Bevan was obliging, quite unlike his first year with Sussex when he cut a dour figure. "I think I'm still intense," he says. "You can't change what you are, but perhaps I was guilty in my formative years of not working with it, and it probably did hinder me a little. After the Ashes in 1997 I decided that if I wanted to play Test cricket again, I'd have to make a couple of changes. I got a couple of opinions to see where I stood, but at the end of the day, it's got to come from yourself."

Michael Bevan sat up, put on a sweatshirt, smiled for the photographer, and checked with Osborne that they had a 9.30 appointment the following morning. Recovery never ends.