Bichel strides like a colossus

ANDY BICHEL was the surprise packet for Australia against England, with seven wickets and an unbeaten 34.

G. VISWANATH

Andy Bichel and Michael Bevan return after subduing England. Bichel turned in a brilliant all-round performance, pciking up seven wickets and then scoring an unbeaten 34.-Pic. REUTERS

ANDY BICHEL was the surprise packet for Australia against England, with seven wickets and an unbeaten 34. But then the Australian cricketers are always inspired against England and always make it a point to have a good time against their archrivals. And the occasion was just right to have a party; it was the World Cup match against England at St. George's Park at Port Elizabeth. Michael Bevan played his role exceptionally well, but Bichel struck telling blows both while bowling and batting and was instrumental in Australia's victory with just two balls remaining.

Queenslander Bichel is a right arm fast medium bowler and had been capped 40 times before the World Cup skirmish against England. He has proved to be an excellent back-up boy for the giants such as Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and of late, Brett Lee. Bichel's tally till then was 49 wickets at a fraction over 30.

Australia's cricketers play in an encouraging environment and are generally part of successful campaigns. Each one knows he is a professional and thrives on healthy competition. Bichel has never been a certainty in the first XI, but he has always been in the selectors' minds. He made way for Brett Lee in the Ashes series, the moment the fast bowler found his rhythm and took a bagful of wickets in the Inter-State competition in Australia.

Bichel has been an ideal foil, but on this Sunday (March 2), he turned out to be an ideal substitute, filling the shoes of Gillespie, who was resting his aggravated Achilles heel. After the England openers Marcus Trescothick and Nick Knight had scattered McGrath and Lee all over the park, Bichel entered the fray and bowled with the attitude of a Wesley Hall.

Ponting had kept Bichel's duties in the competition to the minimum. He bowled five overs against Holland and got three wickets for 13 runs and bowled just one over against Namibia and picked up two more wickets. You get only that much bowling when the frontline bowlers are McGrath and Gillespie or McGrath and Lee.

Another Australian — Bevan — did no harm to his reputation as a great finisher. In spite of Bichel's wicket-taking spree in the morning, Australia had plenty of work to do in the afternoon and Bevan took the responsibility on his shoulders. Bichel joined Bevan at 135 for eight and thereafter Australia coasted to its sixth straight win in the competition.

England's left-handed openers, Trescothick and Knight, gave a bright start, playing shots square of the wicket and getting the measure of McGrath's nagging line and length and Lee's pace that once touched 99.85 mph. Lee was taken for 33 runs from his first four overs and McGrath for the same number of runs in his first six overs. Duncan Fletcher and Nasser Hussain had said Australia could be beaten and if England was looking for a spark of inspiration, it was straightaway provided by the openers.

But as things transpired, England flattered to deceive as Bichel forced Knight to steer into the hands of Damien Martyn and broke the robust partnership of 66 runs in 59 balls. Thereafter, it was a Bichel show all the way as he ploughed through the England line-up, with only Alec Stewart and Andy Flintoff showing some fight.

Bichel, who did not make the World Cup squad in 1999, was delighted that he made a significant contribution to his side. "It was nice to be out there and enjoying what you do for a living. You don't like to see your teammates pick up injuries, especially Jason. He's a tremendous bowler. I hoped I could fill his shoes, he's got big shoes and big shoulders, he's a big man. And I've done it today. I've always been able to swing the ball and the conditions here are helping me at the moment. I wanted to get in there, hang in around that off stump and hopefully nip a few out. It was a goal to play in this World Cup and nice to be out there", Bichel said.

England finished at 204 for eight but the Australian batsmen played shots that did not speak well of their reputation. Ponting himself described it as below par. Matthew Hayden, Gilchrist and Ponting gifted their wickets to Andy Caddick and at different stages of the run chase (four for 48, five for 111 and eight for 135) it looked as though England would manage to break the 13-match winning streak of the Australians.

First, in association with Darren Lehmann, Bevan added 63 runs for the fifth wicket, the partnership ending with a superb diving catch by Stewart to send back Lehmann. Then Bevan pulled it off with Bichel whose contribution was no less. Bichel targeted Jimmy Anderson in the 49th over. Hussain could be faulted for choosing Anderson to bowl the 49th, but then he had given away only five runs in the 47th and had won the right to bowl the penultimate over. Bichel hit a six and a four and made sure that his and Bevan's toil would not go unrewarded.

The scores:

England: M. Trescothick c Martyn b McGrath 37; N. Knight c Martyn b Bichel 30; M. Vaughan c Gilchrist b Bichel 2; N. Hussain b Bichel 1; A. Stewart b Bichel 46; P. Collingwood c Gilchrist b Bichel 10; A. Flintoff c Gilchrist b Bichel 45; C. White (not out) 16; A. Giles c Bevan b Bichel 2; A. Caddick (not out) 5; Extras (lb-3, w-3, nb-4) 10; Total (for eight wickets in 50 overs) 204.

Fall of wickets: 1-66, 2-72, 3-74, 4-74, 5-87, 6-177, 7-180, 8-187.

Australia bowling: McGrath 9-2-41-1, Lee 9-0-58-0, Bichel 10-0-20-7, Hogg 10-1-28-0, Lehmann 10-0-34-0, Symonds 2-0-20-0.

Australia: A. Gilchrist c Vaughan b Caddick 22; M. Hayden c Giles b Caddick 1; R. Ponting c Vaughan b Caddick 18; D. Martyn lbw b Caddick 0; D. Lehmann c Stewart b White 37; M. Bevan (not out) 74; A. Symonds c & b Giles 0; B. Hogg c Stewart b Giles 1; B. Lee (run out) 6; A. Bichel (not out) 34; Extras (b-4, lb-4, w-4, nb-3) 15; Total (for eight wickets in 49.4 overs) 208.

Fall of wickets: 1-15, 2-33, 3-33, 4-48, 5-111, 6-112, 7-114, 8-135.

England bowling: Caddick 9-2-35-4, Anderson 9-0-66-0, Flintoff 9.4-1-26-0, White 10-2-21-1, Giles 10-0-42-2, Vaughan 2-0-10-0.