Johannesburg: Every cricket generation throws up at least one - the nearly man, the player who comes close to nailing down a regular place in an international side but, through no fault of his own, does not quite receive his just rewards. For world champions Australia, Andy Bichel is that man. Still to play a match in the World Cup despite Michael Bevan's injury, Darren Lehmann's suspension or Shane Warne's enforced absence, Bichel has taken up a familiar role on the sidelines.
The 32-year-old fast-medium bowler, whose aggressive batting makes him a useful man to have coming in lower down the order in a One-day match, rarely lets his captain down when called upon. In his seven Tests, spread over a period of five years, Bichel's 17 wickets have come at a respectable average of 32.29 with a best of five for 60 against the West Indies at Melbourne in 2000-01. Going in late in a powerful Australian order has done him few favours and a Test haul of 65 runs at an average of just over eight is not a true reflection of his ability. "The way I look at it I have served my apprenticeship and want to make the most of whatever opportunities come my way," said Bichel.
In first-class cricket Bichel's 10 fifties and one century from 99 matches since his Queensland debut against Western Australia in 1992-93 gives a fairer indication of his talent with the bat. But it's in One-day International cricket that Bichel has become best known with his 32 matches yielding 37 wickets at an average of 33.72, a solid return considering both the strength of the Australian bowling line-up and how the Limited Overs game stacks the odds in favour of the batsmen. Again his batting has had little opportunity to flower but a strike rate of 66.78 tells of his relish for scoring briskly. Unfortunately for Bichel, it has been his bad luck that his international career has coincided with those of Glenn McGrath and Jason Gillespie, one of the most effective new-ball combinations in world cricket.
Not that Bichel, a fast-medium bowler, who enjoyed great success on the English county circuit with Worcestershire, was ideally ever quite quick enough to open the attack. However, with Paul Reiffel taking the third seamer role for Australia early in Bichel's career, his international chances have been further reduced by the emergence of out and out speedster Brett Lee. And adding to Bichel's, not to mention Damien Fleming's misfortune, has been a general drift against swing bowling at anything other than top pace. Speed and sharp spin are what win games these days and, given Australia's record, it's a hard theory to argue against. But while others may feel sorry on his behalf, Bichel shows no sign of feeling sorry for himself.
And it's a feeling reciprocated by his colleagues for an ideal, almost fairytale, 12th man. Just watch their reaction if Bichel does take a wicket at this World Cup. He enjoys his cricket. Nothing, not even a stadium announcer mispronouncing his surname during Australia's match against India at Centurion on Saturday, appears to get him. Some players are always available if selected but Andy Bichel will be ready.