Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, Brisbane, 4th day

Ed Cowan proves he belongs

At the Gabba, Australia opener Ed Cowan not only staved off Test cricket's best bowling attack, he flourished against them

Brydon Coverdale in Brisbane

November 12, 2012

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Ed Cowan drives, Australia v South Africa, first Test, day four, Brisbane, November 12, 2012
Ed Cowan: "I'm playing my best when I'm positive and have a good defence, rather than the other way around" © Getty Images
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Ed Cowan is on Australia's $50 note. Ed-ith Cowan, that is. Edward Cowan, as his parents still call him, might not have risen to such eminence as the first woman elected to an Australian parliament, but his currency gained significant value on the fourth day at the Gabba. His maiden Test century, an innings of 136 against the world's best attack, and one which only ended via an unfortunate run-out while backing up, has proven that he belongs at Test level. And that he'll stay there for some time.

Cowan's standing in Australia's Test plans was apparent when he missed out on a central contract in June. Perhaps it was intended as motivation - if he played three Tests he would be automatically upgraded to a contract - but Cowan is not the kind of man who required extra incentive. Really, it was nothing more complicated than an accurate reflection of his status; in his first seven Tests he had done enough to hold his place in the side, but that was all.

The challenge was for Cowan to show that he could be a viable long-term Test opener, not just a compiler of first-class runs. He has now done that. For 388 minutes at the Gabba, Cowan staved off Dale Steyn, Vernon Philander, Morne Morkel and Rory Kleinveldt, and if a man can survive for long periods against such a group, he is unquestionably of Test class. Notably, Cowan not only survived, he flourished.

In the lead-up to this Test, Cowan spoke of his desire to bat with more intent than he did last summer. On debut on Boxing Day last year, Cowan made 14 runs in his first session of Test cricket. He went on to make 68 in nearly five hours at the crease. For a man trying to grasp his one chance at Test cricket, such an approach was understandable. But he entered this season with a different attitude.

It was a simple plan hatched with the batting coach, Justin Langer. Before Australia's final Test in the Caribbean in April, Cowan spoke to Langer about the best approach for a Test opener. The advice, from a supremely-qualified mentor who balanced defensive ability with stroke-making, was to "go out and play your shots". Cowan did so in that last innings in Dominica, scoring 55 at a reasonable rate on a tricky surface.

"I thought at the time that's a pretty good blueprint, because it's felt that in Test cricket more so than in domestic cricket, if you're standing still, you're a sitting duck," Cowan said after scoring his maiden Test hundred. "I'm playing my best when I'm positive and have a good defence, rather than the other way around. I felt like I backed that up."

 
 
Cowan's willingness to pull and hook South Africa's fast bowlers, and the way those shots flew off the middle of the bat, was notable. The short ball held no fears. His cover-driving was exquisite, his footwork, like everything else about his game, was balanced. For a Test opener, that's the key word.
 

Cowan knows his own game inside out, as you'd expect of a man with more than 5000 first-class runs. And Cowan certainly put it to good use at the Gabba. True, the pitch was not offering much assistance to Steyn and Co, but they were dangerous enough to leave Australia at 3 for 40 on the third afternoon. Cowan watched deliveries closely, leaving those that had teased David Warner and Ricky Ponting into edges, and put away those that were available.

His willingness to pull and hook South Africa's fast bowlers, and the way those shots flew off the middle of the bat, was notable. The short ball held no fears. His cover-driving was exquisite, his footwork, like everything else about his game, was balanced. For a Test opener, that's the key word. It is something his opening partner, Warner, has yet to master, despite showing signs of such judgment with his patient century against New Zealand in Hobart last season.

Cowan also showed plenty of mental toughness. He started the final over before lunch on 98 and despite one hastily aborted single, didn't do anything risky in pushing for triple figures before the break. Such delays can affect batsmen differently. Last year at the Gabba, Clarke went to lunch on 99 against New Zealand and calmly completed his ton upon the resumption. Three years ago against Pakistan at the MCG, Shane Watson was on 98 at lunch and brought up his hundred only after nervously sending a ball to point, where a simple catch was put down.

Cowan's nerves did not betray him. He brought up his hundred by pulling Vernon Philander confidently and his joy was obvious. There was a skip, a jump, a big smile and a raise of the bat to the crowd, and in particular to his wife, Virginia, and baby daughter Romy. There was also a look to the heavens, which Cowan later said was a nod to Peter Roebuck, his former coach and mentor, who died a year ago to the day.

"I'm well aware of the date. I had a conversation with my wife this morning on an earlier than normal walk because I couldn't really sleep," Cowan said. "It was this day last year as well that started last season for me, having found out the news that he'd died. I was battling a little bit and that kick-started me. I was well aware of the date. That was why I looked skywards upon getting a hundred. He was a coach and a mentor and someone whose advice I valued dearly."

Roebuck would have enjoyed writing about Cowan's hundred. Every spectator at the Gabba certainly enjoyed watching it.

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here

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Posted by Biggus on (November 13, 2012, 10:39 GMT)

@Meety-Indeed Cowan was anything but sluggish in this game, but I seem to remember him saying something in a recent interview that suggested he felt under some pressure, real or imagined, to increase the tempo of his game. Now that's all fine and well but I didn't have any problem whatsoever about him taking his time, especially when we've been prone to sudden collapses, and there are strokemakers all around him, so I'd be telling him not to stress too much over the tempo thing. After all, a player who has the patience to grind it out is rarer in this team than the strokemakers are.

Posted by ozwriter on (November 13, 2012, 6:05 GMT)

"cowan proves he belongs" really? he has scored one century in a test where there were 4 other centuries. remember hughes had a few, warner has 2 centuries. i don't think you can prove you belong with your maiden century. he does have the potential to belong though.

Posted by mahjut on (November 13, 2012, 0:36 GMT)

The last time i stopped watching a test mid-match was when SA played PK in the UAE. it's just not fun watching a good attack run in hard and get so little they lose all direction. I just wouldn't read too much into this innings for Cowan though he do do it up front when there was just a little bit left in the wicket (though the sun was out even at that stage). Good luck to both teams getting through the rest of today ... sometimes you gotta earn you way. at least a few averages will benefit (and clarke deserves t, he's a pretty decent bat on the whole)

Posted by Puffin on (November 12, 2012, 23:55 GMT)

That is very much a classical way of doing the job: tiring out the bowlers and jumping on their mistakes, taking a controlled aggressive approach to batting. It has worked many times before for many other openers.

Posted by Meety on (November 12, 2012, 23:31 GMT)

The best thing about Cowan's ton, is that one of the rare occassions recently, we had a bloke tell the press what he was going to do & ACTUALLY do it! Bravo! Until this innings it looked unlikely that Greg matthews prediction of 5,000 test runs would come true. After the ton, it almost looks like it is inevitable. @ Biggus on (November 12 2012, 12:59 PM GMT) - one of the interesting things about Ed Cowan, was when he started FC cricket, he was almost devoid of any cross bat shots. He has worked at it, & on the evidence of the last 2 days (slightly sluggish pitch), he has close to mastered it.

Posted by crh8971 on (November 12, 2012, 23:11 GMT)

For me his fantastic awareness of where his off stump is and what he can leave from the first ball of his innings is a fantastic attribute for an opener. We saw how Warner and Ponting both fell to balls they could have left alone if they had a better feel for their off stump. If he can consolidate from this innings and kick on he may establish himself as a long term test player. I hope this is the case.

Posted by Chris_P on (November 12, 2012, 21:53 GMT)

Well deserved. He deserved to be picked initially, was dreadfully unlucky there wasn't DRS in place in his first test as he was heading to a century when given out to a poor decision that would have been reversed under DRS. His composure & patience was evident from the first time I saw him bat. He is a limited player, but someone who puts in the hard yards so fully deserves all accolades. @Hammond, 100% agree.

Posted by cricmatters on (November 12, 2012, 21:26 GMT)

It was a pleasure watching Ed Cowan. Finally Australia has found an answer to the opening slot though it remains to be seen how he fares against quality spin. It was almost like watching Justin Langer as Ed Cowan put the bad balls away without any qualm. Warner need to tighten his game outside off stump if he wants to continue playing as an opener in Test matches. Other option would be to move him down the batting order when Hussey retires.

Posted by Dashgar on (November 12, 2012, 20:09 GMT)

Great innings to set the tone for the summer. Really looks like he belongs and I'm tipping a big summer for him now.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (November 12, 2012, 15:41 GMT)

Congrats Ed. Very pleased to see you succeed, and in a way which suggests future successes will come too.

Posted by   on (November 12, 2012, 13:16 GMT)

he had a game plan and stuck to it, he barely hit down the ground and waited for the bad balls. his main shots were square of the wicket.

Posted by Biggus on (November 12, 2012, 12:59 GMT)

I'm particularly happy for Cowan. His dedication and application are an excellent antidote for the 'blast the ball all over' types that have become fashionable in recent years. By all means if you have an attacking opener who is also prolific play them, but guys like Cowan have been the stuff of opening bats ever since the dawn of the game. Guys who can leave the ball when it's advisable to do so, who understand that opening is as much about taking the spark out of the bowler's heart as the shine off the ball. Guys who try to ensure that the lower order can get stuck into a tired attack. I do hope he can do this again on a relatively regular basis since I like what he brings to the team, a touch of Bill Lawry or Ian Redpath to provide a firm stage for the strokemakers to cavort on. Remember, even the Windies of the '80s had Larry Gomes and his fellow players were well aware of his worth in the side. So good stuff Ed, there are some old farts around who rather like what you're doing.

Posted by Hammond on (November 12, 2012, 12:35 GMT)

Most composed Aussie left handed opener I've seen since Langer retired. If he kicks on from here he will have a long and prosperous test career.

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Brydon CoverdaleClose
Brydon Coverdale Assistant Editor Possibly the only person to win a headline-writing award for a title with the word "heifers" in it, Brydon decided agricultural journalism wasn't for him when he took up his position with ESPNcricinfo in Melbourne. His cricketing career peaked with an unbeaten 85 in the seconds for a small team in rural Victoria on a day when they could not scrounge up 11 players and Brydon, tragically, ran out of partners to help him reach his century. He is also a compulsive TV game-show contestant and has appeared on half a dozen shows in Australia.
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