Cowan vows to bat with freedom
While trying his best to ignore the chorus predicting him to be the first batsman to find his way out of the Australian Test team this summer, Ed Cowan is out to change a few perceptions.
Chief among these is the view that he is a defensive batsman, a "one-pace plodder" good only for holding up one end while David Warner and others prosper.
Cowan admits that at times over his first seven Tests he was unable to find the balance between attack and defence that allowed him to produce the compelling sequence of scores - 91, 4, 134*, 145, 10, 65, 145* and 109 - that vaulted him into the national team.
This time around he wants to play his shots a little more freely, batting with the kind of instinct he showed in a recent domestic limited overs game for Tasmania against Victoria at the MCG.
"That's really important for me," Cowan told ESPNcricinfo. "I'm at my best when I'm defending well but I'm still an attacking batsman, rather than a defensive batsman who's defending well and trying to fashion runs any way they can. When I'm playing well I'm putting away the bad ball but leaving and defending the good ball.
"It sounds simple but it's sometimes easier said than done. Sometimes in Sheffield Shield cricket, on a few of the wickets we do play on, you can sometimes get a bit defensive. But to trust your instincts on good Test match wickets was a big lesson I took out of the West Indies, particularly that last innings [55 in Dominica], just backing myself to score around the ground as I know I can."
That performance at Windsor Park, in which he outpaced Ricky Ponting on a sharply turning surface, demonstrated the sort of quality Cowan's team-mates and the national selectors value. Yet his inability thus far to go on to a major score is the prime reason for doubt about his place and criticism of his method. Cowan is entering the South Africa series without the runs he made a year ago, but with greater familiarity for international cricket's demands, both from the other end and the other side of the fence.
"One thing was coming in with runs last year and probably being a little disappointed to not score more," Cowan said. "This year I feel like I've been playing well but not got the big runs, but as frustrating as that is, I've known the judgement will come from here on. I feel like I'm in a good place technically and mentally to make runs, having seen what is required.
"I don't think anyone that has criticised me on how I'm playing this season has seen me bat, so I'm not particularly worried about that. I feel like my game is suited to Test cricket, particularly Test cricket in Australia and hard, fast pitches. Everyone's entitled to their opinion and the only way to really prove your point is to score, and make runs the currency that really counts."
To give himself the best chance of making those runs, Cowan has worked on conserving mental energy. He admitted to wasting some of his sharpness on over-training last summer, and also while bouncing around the Australian team room in his efforts to "fit in". Tasmania have seen a subtly more reserved Cowan this season, as he kept half an eye on the battle ahead.
"In a new group that's always a risk of trying to, not impose yourself on a group, but fit in," Cowan said. "You go to every length to make sure that you're doing absolutely everything at full tilt, which is important in terms of preparation but I was probably at some stages maybe going over the top with that. Not necessarily in preparation but on game days sometimes, like doing lots of fielding before a fielding day.
"The trick is knowing when you can conserve a little bit of energy, and that's not in the lead-up days, but around the Test match there are probably places. The preparation over the last six weeks has been about knowing it is going to take a lot of mental energy to perform over the coming weeks, so while I've been pouring every effort into helping Tasmania win, just knowing there's a big series around the corner."
Even if he has been described as being in a battle with the debutant Rob Quiney for retention beyond the Gabba, Cowan is happy to have been joined by another left-hander who has had to push his way into the Test team through weight of runs over the past two summers. Cowan reckoned his new team-mate had benefited from being given a consistent opening role with Victoria, much as he had grown from doing the same with Tasmania.
"It's another win for people who can add to the culture of teams and not detract from it," Cowan said. "Talking to any domestic player you'd know how talented Rob is, and it was just a question of him finding consistency. It probably came about through getting a job, which in his case was opening the batting for an extended period of time.
"He was one of those guys who batted at six or five, opened for a game and was then back to six, and I saw it myself moving to Tassie, how much that can improve your game just knowing that you're playing and you've got a job to do. I don't think anyone was surprised by his last 12 months or so. He's been a good player for a very long time."
Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here