Richard Bevan has stepped out of the shadows. The managing director of the Professional Cricketers' Association (PCA) requested that the England players' World Cup fixture in Zimbabwe, scheduled for 13 February, be moved to South Africa. On top of that, if the rumours are true, Bevan is the PCA's chief executive elect.
But who is the man to whom the England captain, Nasser Hussain, turns for guidance?
There was a clue at the PCA's annual awards dinner last September. As cricket's glitterati were preparing to go home after an evening at the Grosvenor, Bevan soldiered on with his speech, through the graveyard slot. The noise would have put anyone else off. But not Bevan.
"Richard is tireless," says David Graveney, the PCA's Chief Executive Officer. "His contribution to the PCA has been outstanding." So outstanding that Bevan is the Chief Executive-elect? "I have no problem with confirming that there are proposals for change at the PCA," says Graveney. "But they have to be ratified by the Executive Committee." The Committee, comprised of player representatives from each county, meets on 11 February. The smart money is on Bevan taking over as PCA Chief Executive.
What does Hussain make of this? "The players would welcome Richard as chief executive," he says. "He has done a fantastic job. Everyone knows they can rely on him."
Bevan's statement last week on behalf of the players was remarkable. Where Hussain had carefully voiced his players' disquiet, here was a man who didn't pull his punches. In language as carefully scripted as it was powerful, Bevan lambasted the government for not adopting a clear position and said that a myriad of issues had been weighing on the players' minds, "taking into account the moral, political and contractual aspects."
Those 'moral, political and contractual' aspects are now firmly in the public eye. Only a fortnight ago some sections of the media were characterising the players as unable to comprehend any issues relating to Zimbabwe. Bevan has engendered sympathy for the players, and cricket has become yet another thorn in Tony Blair's side.
"Strength and determination are my greatest assets," says Bevan, square-jawed and solid, more in the mould of a flank forward than a leg spinner. "I'm like a terrier. I will not let go until the job is done."
As a young man Bevan, born in Shropshire in 1961, was an amateur footballer who admits to frustration that he wasn't good enough to play professionally. He played for Liverpool Ramblers, the oldest amateur club in Britain, and formed Shropshire Ramblers, whose occasional guests included Mick Mills, Allan Hudson and Martin Buchan. Disaster struck in Bevan's late twenties when he suffered a knee injury so comprehensive that it required six operations. He still has physiotherapy to this day. But recuperation gave Bevan time to decide to give up a career in marketing.
"While in hospital, with my leg hanging in the air, I realised I should channel my frustrations into working in sport," he says. He formed a sports consultancy, Fieldsman Management Ltd, of which he remains a director. The company puts together corporate and charity golf days but though it provided an outlet for Bevan's energy, it wasn't the real thing. In 1991, Bevan entered the RAC Rally, only to crash out on the third day. On his fourth attempt, in an ex-Mitsubishi works car, he finished in the top half of the field. Now a keen golfer with a handicap of six, he is working to play off scratch.
Determination is what Richard Bevan does best. "I am the engine room of whatever I do. I have a sense of urgency, energy, enthusiasm and commitment." Of his shortcomings, he says: "I'm not so good at listening, and I'm working on my communication skills."
Graveney disagrees. "I think he's being too hard on himself." Graveney adds that the fact that Bevan was not a professional cricketer has been an advantage, enabling him to see things objectively without the baggage of the game's politics.
Since joining the PCA in 1996 Bevan has been the driving force behind huge changes in cricket. He has overseen the introduction of central contracts and increased commercial opportunities for the players. On the agenda for 2003 are the introduction of new standard contracts to secure revenue from image rights, and a full-scale revision of the rules on qualification and registration of players. The present rules are "unduly restrictive", according to the PCA's lawyer, Ian Smith, Head of Sports Law at Clarke Willmott & Clarke. Smith knows a thing or two about Bevan. "Everything he does is influenced by his sense of the players' welfare," he says. "His decisiveness makes him the easiest client I've ever worked with."
Bevan is proud of initiatives such as 'PCA in the Community' and the securing of heavyweight corporate sponsors. He is mindful of cricket's history and acknowledges the debt he owes to the likes of Graveney, Jack Bannister and John Arlott for their work in the game. He insists that he doesn't differentiate between the stars and the youngsters: "The PCA is just as concerned about an 18 year old minor counties player as the England captain."
As for the England captain, Bevan says they get on well on a professional and personal level. "The more you know Nasser, the more you respect him. He is a deeply emotional, intelligent man who has led his players into a new era. He's one of the best captains England has had."
Regardless of the rumours, and the controversy over Zimbabwe, Hussain and his players can be sure of one thing. As Bevan says, "I might get things wrong, but I will never give less than 110%."
One suspects that people won't talk over Richard Bevan at the next PCA awards dinner.