Gone but must not be forgotten
The international careers of three players who shared five World Cup medals, 416 ODIs and 67 Tests finally ended with the naming of the Ashes squads. Despite piling up runs, records and, most crucially, birthdays, Michael Bevan, Andy Bichel and Darren Lehmann will not board either plane to Heathrow. Unfortunately most supporters have also missed the chance to wave goodbye.
Deep in their stomachs none of the trio has given up on Trevor Hohns recalls, so there has been no farewell bator ball-raise, no thanks-for-the-memories press conference. Australia have relied on their three Ws and McGrath over the past decade, but players such as Bevan, Bichel and Lehmann were also responsible for the side's shuddering success whenever they arrived off tour benches or echoing state grounds. All have been matchwinners, and deserve respect for contributions that will probably be hazily recalled when they have eked out the last fluid movements from their creaking frames, which are currently mid-thirtysomething.
Bevan should be the most upset at the lack of recognition for his successful mustering of so many seemingly hopeless chases - he banished sulking for an unprecedented, unbelievable Pura Cup season. Cricket-haters still warmly whisper of being curled up in New Year's Day beanbags as he belted Roger Harper for a miraculous last-ball four in 1995-96. Bevan had a rare ability to shuffle the masses on their Styrofoam.
There were so many more great saves, but because he looked brightest in green and gold, scoring 6912 runs at 53.58, his overall record will forever accompany an asterisk for the imbalance of 232 ODIs - fourth on Australia's list behind the Waughs and Allan Border - against just 18 Tests. His last innings was a 14 in Colombo in February 2004, when Australia lost by three wickets. Two months later his Cricket Australia contract was gone, along with Bichel's.
At the 2003 World Cup Bichel and Bevan dug Australia to the most unlikely win against England - Bichel followed his 7 for 20 with 34 not out in a ninth-wicket partnership of 73 with Bevan - and boosted a side suffering from injury and Shane Warne's suspension. The selectors' sentiment disappeared, but the players' reflexes and desire to improve remain as sharp as they were that day at Port Elizabeth. Bevan's season for Tasmania - 1464 runs, eight hundreds, two fifties, average 97.6 - was the most prolific in Australia's domestic four-day history; Bichel blasted through 60 Pura Cup wickets, breaking Craig McDermott's Queensland record, but not the national squads.
Still in limbo, the bar falls instead of rising. Yet they shimmy smoothly under each new state-level obstacle. Bichel missed an Ashes place to the youth of Shaun Tait, who took 65 wickets for South Australia, in a sensible decision. The shame is that Bichel, whose Test career ended after bowling his best-ever spell against India in 2003-04 at Adelaide, walked out speaking of double standards, disappointment and not playing the media bandwagon. He received a reprimand for his honesty and a retirement wondering about the abrupt termination of a 19-Test, 67-ODI exhibition of strength and loyalty. He was asked to bust many stands for Australia, but couldn't pass this one.
Lehmann's case is more peculiar. As his form sagged during the summer and Australia remained unchallenged, his selection became the fat-chewing topic. Obituaries were written as he made sure people knew he was alive and looking for a midsummer's Ashes dream. His eyes have been opened. There was barely a whisper of tribute last week when he realised generation next was now, and he will next year join Bevan and Bichel fulltime on the state circuit. They will be watched and thanked quietly, perhaps silently, by hundreds rather than tens of thousands.
When Lehmann, whose New Zealand tour chance was ended by shoulder surgery, missed the Sydney Test in January Ricky Ponting loudly insisted that he had been "rested, not dropped". The break from the baggy green will be eternal; his last act as a Test batsman was popping Shoaib Akhtar to short leg at the MCG a week before his captain's show of support. Beware of resting talk. It may become the playing equivalent of a son promising to visit parents at their retirement home. The great value of Australia's second-tier players should not be forgotten when their lights turn out.
Peter English is Cricinfo's Australasian editor.