India in Australia 2011-12 December 21, 2011

Cowan thanks Roebuck with runs

Ed Cowan reflects that he has been scoring runs out of gratitude to Peter Roebuck, who coached him at Sydney's Cranbrook School then mentored him in the years since

Ed Cowan started making runs this summer the day his mentor, Peter Roebuck, died. In the afterglow of his call-up for the Boxing Day Test, he still does not know exactly why.

A little more than five weeks ago, Cowan was about to go out to bat for Tasmania against South Australia in a domestic limited-overs fixture in Burnie. A pair of text messages, hinting at bad news about Roebuck, flashed across his phone. Choosing not to pursue the matter immediately but knowing something was wrong, Cowan walked to the middle and made an unbeaten 91 to help the Tigers establish a score they would defend.

On his return to the dressing room, the world had been informed of Roebuck's death, and it was a solemn Cowan who took the field for SA's chase. Since that day, Cowan has been scoring runs with such unstoppable volume as to win a place in Australia's Test side to face India. He now reflects that he has been doing it out of gratitude to Roebuck, who coached him at Sydney's Cranbrook School then mentored him in the years since, as much as anything else.

"I assumed he was sick, or put myself into a state where it wasn't the worst case scenario, and then I came off at lunch and heard the news. It was then a tough couple of hours in the field to say the least," Cowan told ESPNcricinfo. "I felt like I was playing pretty well at the start of the season without results and really needed to keep the faith that the results would come if I keep preparing well.

"Sometimes it is a trigger event, just that moment of inspiration that can lift you from hitting the ball well and getting starts to really kicking on, and I guess the passing of Peter probably did that. I've certainly thought about that as well.

"That week I was really heavily focused on performing well, not that you are any other way, but it was an added incentive as a 'thank you' I guess, for his kindness towards me over all the years. That did kick things off, the day he passed away was the day I got 91 not out in Burnie and really kick-started my season."

A run of subsequent scores has vaulted Cowan over numerous other suitors for a place in the Test team, and he said the experience gained across a state career that began in 2003 had taught him about how tightly he had to hang on to the habit of scoring runs once he had found it.

"It may be an experience thing, but I have learned that when you do start scoring runs it is such a habit that it is important to make sure that habit sticks for more than just one innings," he said. "That's the difference between good players and really good players, consistency. Everyone can have their day out, but to try to make yourself that kind of run machine that can churn them out when you are in good form is a really important attribute.

"I'm a big believer, not just in Test cricket but at any level of cricket, in picking guys when they're in form, because confidence in cricket can be hard to come by, but once you have it, it is such a valuable commodity. So it is so important to let guys play when they are playing well. I'm in that fortunate position, so in terms of the bat and ball contest come Boxing Day, if I play, I feel really confident that I can contribute."

Cowan's mind is among the most erudite in Australian cricket, but he sought the refuge of cod psychology in the days leading up to his selection in the Test team. Reasoning he would do better for the CA Chairman's XI against India without the weight of expectation, Cowan told himself that Shane Watson was a certainty to play on Boxing Day. Thus unencumbered, he stroked an attractive 109 in Canberra to more or less seal his place.

"I think that was partly my attitude to just ensuring there was no pressure," he said. "I was taking the pressure off myself going into this game and even yesterday, I felt really relaxed batting as though it was just a free hit, a game against the Indians and there was only upside for me, and scoring runs was that.

"It is hard, when people are talking and Twitter's going crazy and people are telling you should be in the team. That was the way I was doing it to distract myself, talking myself into the idea that Shane Watson was going to be fit."

Instead, Cowan will be batting with David Warner, who was his opening partner for Australia A in the tour game against New Zealand in Brisbane before the first Test of the home summer. Their union would appear perfectly complementary.

"Particularly with the form he's in, it is a case of letting him try to face as many balls as possible, which suits my game of trying to sneak my way up the other end," Cowan said. "People are saying it is reminiscent of [Mark] Taylor and [Michael] Slater, and it is that kind of opening partnership of a bit of a stodge and a guy who can really light up any session of a game. So, in that sense, I think we are pretty complementary."

The Australia dressing-room is also a place where Cowan will provide a useful counterpoint, as a debutant who has spent nearly a decade across two states sorting out his best methods for success and happiness, in life as well as cricket.

"When I first started I was probably a boy and I've, over the years, become a young man, so it has been a learning experience," he said. "The great thing about cricket is you do share change-rooms with different personalities and people with different interests. Hopefully I can bring a different perspective into the Australian change-room. The older you get, the more comfortable you get in your own skin, so I'm sure they can be very accepting with me and I can reciprocate that."

Roebuck would have expected nothing less.

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo