Michael Bevan November 14, 2008

'I've always felt comfortable in tight situations'

The master finisher talks about the art of pulling off impossible chases, and his less-than-stellar record in the long form

Michael Bevan was the world's best one-day batsman for a decade, orchestrating many close successful chases for Australia. Picking the gaps, running hard and knowing the right moment - and place - to hit a boundary were the hallmarks of his success. In a freewheeling chat with Cricinfo, he talks about the secret of his success in ODIs and dwells on his failures in Test match cricket.

"I always try to say to myself that we are going to lose some matches. I never put too much pressure on myself" © Getty Images

You had a great ODI career. But there was a perception that you had a problem against the short delivery in Test cricket.
A lot of people felt I couldn't play the short ball. Maybe I put too much pressure on myself to play the short ball well. If I had my time again, I would approach it a little bit differently.

I think I didn't learn much at the start of my career. I think I suffered from the same mistakes over and over again. I think I learnt a lot in the latter part of my career, and I was probably good enough to play for Australia, but I just didn't get the opportunity as I was labelled with the short-ball weakness. I don't necessarily see it as a big deal, but I could have made a better fist of it.

How did you put pressure on yourself?
I tried to prove to people that I could play, and I put too much pressure on myself and never allowed myself to make mistakes. All those things made it hard for me to move on and get over it. I tried to change later in my career but it was a bit too late.

You hired a US biomechanical coach and learned how to hook and pull all over again. Did the acknowledgement that you had a problem with the short ball happen then, or did it come earlier, when you were in trouble early in your career?
No, not really. Even when I was dropped originally, in 1994, I went back and practised the short ball a lot. But the practice was a technical thing. I think the problem was more of a mental thing for me. It was not until 1997 that I realised it was a mental thing.

When I hired the biomechanist it was because I had decided that they weren't picking me in the team because I was ducking and weaving from the short deliveries, and they still thought I had the problem. All I wanted to do was to change the defensive into an attacking option.

Later the head of selectors, Trevor Hohns, said your 'contribution to the one-day side had decreased', and you were cut out of the team.
I was pretty disappointed. I felt that I hadn't done much wrong. I had a couple of bad games. But given that I had 230-odd for my country, I thought it was a harsh call. But to be fair, I could see the writing on the wall when they only gave me one year in the last contract meeting. It was pretty obvious that they were looking to move me out. I was very disappointed because the whole decision revolved around the 2007 World Cup, and they didn't think I would be there. I felt that I should have been given a reasonable period where I didn't perform. So I was pretty angry about it.

You have been spoken of as an aloof person. Jamie Cox, your team-mate, said about you: 'I played under-age cricket with Michael and even then he had the aloofness, if you like, that a lot of special players have… There's this zone where they go and you wonder what they're thinking. You look at them and you know they're ready to go.'
No, not really. It's a decision other people make. Some people can also say you are arrogant. I was quite shy and maybe that can be misinterpreted.

Another quote on your 'volatile' temperament, from the Victoria captain Darren Berry: 'Although a mild-mannered man, his often violent temper was a room-clearer whenever he got out. He made a mess of many cricket coffins and on occasions would shove his bat and pads down the toilet, flush the button and walk away as he battled his inner demons.'
I don't necessarily remember that happening but I was always quite an angry person. I tended to get very frustrated after getting out. I did do lots of things that I regret doing at the start of my career and I made a conscious decision that I had to change in the latter half.

I felt I had lots of scoring options in ODI cricket, which helped me to get pressure off myself. Pressure is the thing that makes people make mistakes and costs matches

What were the things you regretted?
I was getting too angry and aggressive, and getting out was too frustrating for me. That's just part of the game; you are always going to get out.

How would you react now as a coach when you see someone like you - a young Bevan?
I always try to find what their goals are - what they want to achieve. It's about achieving team goals and creating awareness about the things that will help them get there. I tend not to offer suggestions. I try to get a feel for the player. Only then I can help them.

You were known to pull off incredible wins in ODIs from lost situations. How much does that come down to planning?
I felt that was a strength of mine - planning, strategy and making the right decisions. Even when it looks hard to score, it's about being disciplined and carrying out your plans. One of my goals was to be there till the end. I figured that if I was there till the end we would win more matches than we lost. Of course, I didn't score a run a ball every minute, but that was my goal.

What exactly do you mean by planning?
It's a fairly complex process but it's about playing to your strengths. Choosing the right ball to fit into your strengths, understanding the situation - who is bowling, how is the wicket, what is the match condition - and making the right decisions.

Why were you so much better than the rest in those situations?
When I started playing ODIs I felt that I had a good range of scoring options - very similar to an Andrew Symonds or a Michael Clarke. That's what sets them apart. In that era I felt I had lots of scoring options in ODI cricket, which helped me to get pressure off myself. Pressure is the thing that makes people make mistakes and costs matches. I always try to say to myself that we are going to lose some matches. So I never try to put too much pressure on myself.

So in those extreme chase situations the pressure goes off you?
That's right. I had my personal goals - run-a-ball and this is the way I'm going to do it. That used to be my focus. You always feel a bit of pressure. Its okay to be nervous but you just try to focus on the next ball. When the pressure gets so much that you can't handle it, then it becomes a problem.

Ian Chappell wrote about you, 'I have never seen Bevan yorked. He often manages to whack attempted yorkers to boundaries.' Do you get a sense of where the ball is going to be in some situations?
That's right. Based on the experience of playing in ODI cricket, the field settings, the type of bowler, you do get a feel of where it's going to pitch. So it's about having a plan when it pitches there.

Bevan gets yet another fifty: "Even when it looks hard to score, it's about being disciplined and carrying out your plans" © AFP

Talk us through that game against West Indies in 1996 where you hit a boundary on the last ball off Roger Harper. You were 74 for 7 chasing 173.
You probably think you don't have much of a chance. It's great to be positive and all those sorts of things, but you can't think that far ahead because it feels too big a job. So what you try to say is, 'Just get through the next period. Try to continue to rotate strike, and give yourself a chance.' You tend to bat well in that circumstance as you are relaxed. It's not until you get close to the end of the match and you understand you have a chance of winning or losing that you get nervous again.

Glenn McGrath was with you in the final over of the game. What were you thinking?
The key for Glenn was to get off strike and run quickly. It's very important to be clear how you are going to approach it. He knew what was expected of him and how we were going to do it. As opposed to the situation in the semi-final of 1999, when the South Africans [Lance Klusener and Allan Donald] didn't have a plan in the same situation.

McGrath took a single of the fourth ball. The fifth, you jumped out but drove straight back to Harper. Then there was almost a minute before the next ball. The crowd was screaming and chanting. What was going through your mind there?
I think the second-last ball I had a pretty good idea where I wanted to go: straight. That was my best opportunity, given where I thought he was going to bowl. He bowled a real good ball; if he had bowled another ball like that it wouldn't have happened. I moved slightly leg side, gave myself some room and was just lucky that it landed on the right spot really.

Even early in my career, when a game went down to the wire… I have always felt comfortable and good in those situations.

Can you practise for these situations?
Of course, mate. You can practise anything in cricket. It's about creating good habits, understanding how to make good decisions and taking pressure off yourself.

Which one of those last-gasp victories do you cherish the most?
There was the game against New Zealand in Melbourne. We needed 240 or 250 runs and we were six for something. So it was quite a lot of pressure. I thought that situation made it really tough.

There was another game against South Africa in the late 90s, where it was another big total - 280 or 290-odd - and we needed to win that to win the series. I made 90 or 100 and was really, really happy.

But pound for pound the best innings I have played is for Rest of World against Asia [Dhaka, 2000], for the kind of shots and how I hit them. That was a bit of a buzz. I remember coming out - we needed seven an over and I came in in the third or fourth over. They had lots of spinners, like Murali and Kumble. So there were lots of slog-sweeps and down-the-ground strokes.

I was always quite an angry person. I tended to get very frustrated after getting out. At the start of my career I did lots of things that I regret doing, and I made a conscious decision that I had to change in the latter half

After you were dropped from the Australia team you had a great year with Tasmania, averaging 97, and you made a domestic-record 1464 runs in the Pura Cup, including eight hundreds.
I just had a number of things that I wanted to achieve. I think I had got a little bit defensive and become a bit too mechanical. I just wanted to relax and see what I was capable of - dominating the bowlers. Those were very good years for me.

What would you say was the difference between the young Bevan and the mature version?
There is no difference. I mean, what I did in 2004, where I averaged 97, I did at the start of my career. I was coming full circle. It was about understanding why I did what I did early in my career. I didn't understand then. When I was young I was confident, positive, and was trying to take the bowlers on. I didn't have any expectations. I didn't realise that at the start of my career, but by 2004 I did. That's the reason I did well.

Earlier, I used to practise in the nets a lot, but I was practising for no reason. I didn't have focus. Towards the back-end of my career I didn't practise as much because I felt I didn't need it as much. When I did practise, I really used it well and had goals. It was about working on your technique, getting your body position right or about the match situation.

I had great times in my career. I used to have good years and poor years. My ODI career was great. I also had good times in Tests. I had great series against Pakistan and West Indies.

With me it was about frustration when I didn't do well. It was about understanding why I didn't do well and putting things in place to change that. I really enjoyed my career lot more after the age of 27.

Sriram Veera is a staff writer at Cricinfo