| Andy Bichel and coach John Buchanan share a light moment. A file picture
Durban: After years as a fringe player, Australia’s Andy Bichel is finally getting a regular chance on the big stage.
An injury to Jason Gillespie has catapulted the 32-year-old into the world champions’ starting line-up and Bichel’s presence has made Ricky Ponting’s side an even stronger unit.
With the ball, the seam and swing bowler has taken 13 wickets at an amazing average of 6.23 including seven for 20 against England at Port Elizabeth, the second best figures in World Cup history. On top of that there has been the bonus of his batting, with two match-winning contributions, an unbeaten 34 against England and 64 against New Zealand on Tuesday.
Figures like that mark Bichel down as the outstanding player of the tournament, not bad for a fringe player who has been 12th man in 16 ODIs, more than any other Australia player.
“There’s no doubt that the more you play the more confident you get,” Bichel said. “As for the batting, I have managed to play a few major roles for Queensland and now it is coming through at international level.
“I’m feeling a lot more comfortable and relaxed now but then I have played a lot of cricket with all the players around me too, and that helps as well.”
Australia’s Test captain Steve Waugh once described Bichel as the perfect 12th man and, although that sounds unkind, it was meant as a compliment.
Far from suggesting he is an expert at making the drinks, Waugh’s comment was designed to show what a great team man Bichel is, willing to work hard for his teammates even when he is not in the starting line-up.
Waugh’s successor as one-day captain, Ricky Ponting, has been equally impressed with Bichel, who has played a key role in ensuring the side has so far remained unbeaten through eight matches in this World Cup.
“He’s playing better but there is no difference in his attitude,” Ponting said. “That has always been outstanding whether he is playing or not and he is just great to have around.
“Whether he has got the bat or ball in his hand he just gives his best all the time and that is all you can ask. He has obviously had more chance in the last couple of games to show what he can do with bat and ball.
“That is very pleasing as he has got in and won us two matches,” Ponting added.
Bichel made his international debut back in 1996-97 and has regularly topped the wicket-taking charts for Queensland for almost a decade, but his bad luck has been to be born in the same era as Glenn McGrath, Jason Gillespie and Brett Lee.
With those three thoroughbred bowlers to call on, Bichel’s brand of wholehearted endeavour has been seen primarily as valuable back-up if any of those big three got injured.
There have been occasions when Bichel has made the side as ahead of one of them, and at the start of the season he took Lee’s place for three successive Tests against Pakistan and England. However, that has been the exception rather than the rule and even now, despite his fantastic performances in this tournament, the shadow of the big three still looms large over his future.
No matter what he does, there still seems to be an expectation that when Gillespie is fit again he will simply return to the side and Bichel will be the man to make way. Bichel is resigned to that prospect, and for the time being is just enjoying his chance in the limelight.
“That is a long way off and there is still a lot of cricket to be played yet,” he said when asked about Gillespie’s comeback. “Jason is working hard on his fitness to be right for the West Indies tour but I am just happy to be around and get the opportunity. It is up to me to make the most of it.”