January 7, 2012

Australian Cricket

The parallel tales of two writer-cricketers

Stuart John

By Stuart John, Australia

Ed Cowan and his baggy green, Melbourne, December 23, 2011
Can Ed Cowan make more out of his international career than his English namesake?  © Getty Images
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This sounds familiar to anyone? Regular first-class cricketer plays for over seven years, not excelling but not sinking into the abyss as many have before. Mid-table mediocrity, so to speak. Said cricketer then wakes up one morning and discovers the cricketing fairies (I'd like to imagine Merv Hughes in a Tinkerbell outfit tip-toeing around the house so not to wake anyone up) have turned him into a batting champion. Centuries flow from his bat like beer from the tap, eventually leading to a long-awaited Test call-up. Once there, our hero doesn't disgrace himself either, battling a difficult pitch and a strong bowling attack to make a useful 60-odd before being caught behind; his second innings is less successful, with an lbw decision against him early on.

I should probably mention at this point that our hero is already a published author. If you're an Australian cricket fan, you probably know the answer. And if you said his first name is Ed, we'd be in agreement. But our hero for this particular story isn't new Australian opener Ed Cowan - instead, it's former England player Ed Smith. Mind you though, most of the above could be true for Messrs. Cowan or Smith - and there's more to it than that. Both made their first-class debuts at a young age, for world-famous British universities (Cowan at 20 for Oxford, Smith at 18 for Cambridge); both struggled for about four years into their first-class careers; and both have a reputation for being intellectual in a career that doesn't always look that kindly on those outside the norm.

Probably the major difference between the two Eds is the timing of their season diaries. Cowan's In The Firing Line is about his 2010/2011 season, where his average average of 34 was partially balanced out by a century in the Sheffield Shield final that helped Tasmania to only their second-ever win. Smith's On And Off The Field narrates his amazing 2003 season, where he hit six centuries in six matches to metaphorically blast down the door to English selection down with a cannon, bazooka, laser and anything else that came to hand.

Both wrote their diaries with very different home lives as well: Cowan is happily married to media personality Virginia Lette and settled in Hobart, while Smith broke up from his girlfriend and moved house just before the start of the 2003 season. Smith was already a published author by this point, his Playing Hard Ball: County Cricket and Big League Baseball comparing English professional cricket with Major League Baseball. What is uncanny about the two though is the similarity in writing styles. Both Eds reveal plenty about themselves in their diaries, how they treated triumph and disaster; and even the little tweaks they made to go from Ed Plodder to Ed Dasher. (No, I'm not going to tell you what they were - you have to read the books for that). So what happens next? For Ed Smith, that 64 on debut remained his highest score after his remaining four innings gave him just 23 runs and had him fade out of England contention. He continued playing for Kent for one more season before moving to Middlesex, retiring in 2008 before becoming a major writer for the Times newspaper. For Ed Cowan, that chapter is yet to be written. One hopes that when it is, it's written in a way that will continue to do credit to Eds the cricketing world over.

© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Balachandhran S on (January 13, 2012, 13:35 GMT)

A nice little vignette into the two cricketers' non-cricketing lives. I am sure the Indian cricket loving public would be interested in more such anecdotes...

Posted by Ajai Banerji on (January 12, 2012, 7:04 GMT)

There are numerous Indian players with engineering degrees (including Prasanna, Venkatraghavan, Srikkanth, Srinath and Kumble). Not sure if this proves anything.

Posted by Rajan Iyer on (January 8, 2012, 7:57 GMT)

I am not certain how it emerged that sports and public intellectualism are mutually exclusive. There really is no reason that I can think of. The most recent one I recall was Monty Panesar with a Masters in Mathematics (Applied or Pure?). Will cricket benefit from a larger injection of credentialled intellectuals? Certainly the examples of Brearley, Kumble add weight to the ayes, while Lawson, Hilditch and co. would suggest otherwise.

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