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Michael Bevan: ‘Personal demons’ stopped me from cracking Test cricket

Ben Gardner by Ben Gardner
@Ben_Wisden 4 minute read

Speaking on The Grade Cricketer podcast, former Australia batsman Michael Bevan discussed his struggles to crack Test cricket, despite his incredible exploits at ODI and first-class levels.

The left-hander, who played his last professional game in 2006, has the second-highest ODI average of any player with more than 4,000 runs in the format, with only Virat Kohli’s 59.31 above Bevan’s mark of 53.58. He was even more prolific in the Sheffield Shield; among those with 7,000 runs in the first-class competition, he and Don Bradman are the only batsmen to average more than 60.

And yet his 18-game Test career, which ended in 1998, brought a high score of 91 and an average of 29.07. Many have attributed his struggles to issues against the short ball, but that theory is complicated by his two best Test series performances, which came against some of the best and fastest bowlers of the day.

He averaged 55 against a West Indies attack featuring Courtney Walsh, Curtly Ambrose and Ian Bishop in 1996/97, making a pair of unbeaten 80-plus scores ion the fourth and fifth Tests, while in his debut Test series against Pakistan, he averaged more than 60. As Phil Emery, another former Australia cricketer described to The Cricket Monthly, he came up against “[Wasim] Akram and [Waqar] Younis in full flight and he hooked the bejesus out of them.”

Emery suggested that, had that Test series been broadcast in Australia, the perception of Bevan might have changed. “Bevo’s career could have been different,” he said. “The way he played over there, against those two specifically, at the time one of the best opening attacks in the world – he did it easily. He actually showed he didn’t have a problem. But he plays a bad shot at home and everyone picks on him. So it maybe got in his head. That’s the thing about the [lack of] TV that I remember – that could have changed his life.”

For his part, while he explained how he found that Pakistan series to not be “a tough initiation” to Test cricket, Bevan felt that his poor form in his next Test series against England, when he averaged 13.50 in six innings, would have counted against him regardless. He went on to put his slender returns down to his “own personal demons”, rather than any technical shortcoming.

“No I don’t think [Emery] is quite right, because ultimately cricket at that level, and most levels, is about performance,” Bevan told The Grade Cricketer. “I was unsure how people perceived how I batted in that series. It was my first Test series against the world’s best bowling attack, and I think I averaged about 60 in that series. And if I was really honest, it wasn’t a tough initiation for me into Test cricket. I went into it with my eyes wide open and put very little pressure on myself and ended up topping the averages for the Australian batsmen. I don’t know how he saw it, but for me it felt reasonably easy against high-quality bowlers.

“That was one of my recollections. The other one of my recollections was in the second Test when we played on a green top and I was following Steve Waugh who had his own short ball problems at that point in time. Really, watching Akram giving him a pummelling in terms of short-ball bowling, I was kind of thinking ‘Wow this is Test cricket’. I was kind of amazed at the intensity of it all.

“But look, I’ve been described as an enigma, a tortured genius, people can’t work out why I performed so well in one-day cricket and not Test cricket, why I performed well at first-class cricket and not Test cricket, and I suppose it was my own personal demons. All the good work in my first Test series became undone in my second Test series against England in Australia against an inferior bowling attack. I think I averaged about 10 or 15 and it really wasn’t apparent to me why that had happened at that time. So whilst Phil has a point, I don’t think it would have mattered because for whatever reason during that series I was in no way, shape or form ready to go and perform to the level that I hoped I could have achieved.”

Even as the runs continued to flow at Sheffield Shield level – notably in the 2004/05 season, when he scored 1,464 runs at 97.60, a record tally at the time – Bevan continued to get overlooked, something he put down to Australia’s strength in depth at the time.

“The 2004 season for me was pretty strong, and most [seasons] were after ’97,” he said. “I think I improved as a player after that time but never really got the opportunity. I’m not really sour or bitter about it, it’s just the way it was. It didn’t pan out the way I thought it would but in the end I did most of my learning and improving after the age of 27 when I didn’t really get too many more opportunities to play for Australia, but that’s fine.

“In my day, if you didn’t average 50 in first-class cricket you were no chance of playing Test cricket for Australia. It even got to the point where some years I was averaging 60 or 70 in first-class cricket and I still didn’t get a look-in. During my era we had such a great team that you had to strive so hard to get in the team and so hard to stay in the team.”

However, he did feel that his success at the level below should at least have shown that he could play the short ball effectively.

“It was a ball that meant different things and held different perceptions in Test cricket as opposed to first-class cricket,” he said. “A lot of people don’t realise, they actually have short balls in first-class cricket and they are allowed to bowl a couple of those an over, and yet my performances in first-class cricket were pretty solid. It was a weird thing for me. It happened in a time when I was new to the Australian team. I guess you could categorise it as similar to a bowler getting the yips, maybe. It happened in Test cricket for me and I made too much of an issue of it. It was never really an issue, but then I never really got over it either. It was something that affected me throughout my career.”

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