Cowan's joyful loneliness
You make the hundred. You go crazy. The crowd roar. You celebrate with your batting partner. You acknowledge your family, team-mates and the crowd. The celebration is then replayed with the commentator explaining what it means. Usually that is it.
We've seen it so many times that sometimes we don't even pay that much attention. If it's someone's first, you might watch just to see how they react. What sort of person are they. Did they kiss their badge? or the turf? Did they squeal uncontrollably? Were they almost crying. How did the non-striker react to it all? Then you go back to half-watching the cricket like you always do.
But Channel 9 caught something else on Ed Cowan.
Mark Nicholas was busy contextualising the event for us as quick as he could before the producer put a commercial on. As he was, Cowan came to a standstill and had a moment to himself.
It was during an ad break in Australia, but if you were watching internationally you would have seen the moment after the over was bowled. No commentary. No hype. Just the gentle background cricket crowd noise and a close up of a man who had just made his first Test hundred.
Cowan took a deep breath after completing a quick two, but it wasn't the deep breath of someone who had run, but the deep breath of someone trying to get his thoughts in order. Quickly he took his helmet off and rubbed his eyes dry. Then he looked up above. Cowan said it was for his mentor Peter Roebuck, but it was quickly aborted due to the sweat that was in his eyes. That is assuming it was sweat and not something else. Cowan then looked up the pitch and smiled, smiled that nervous kind of smile that you do when you cannot believe how lucky you are.
The crowd then gave him a gentle applause. The sort of applause you give to a bowler as he walks down to the crowd after taking a wicket. He acknowledged them in an awkward way by barely raising his helmet, like he was embarrassed to continue to celebrate his hundred. Like an actor who feels comfortable with an encore. Cowan wandered down the pitch unsure of what to do, how to act, where to go.
Clarke had left to see the 12th man about a dog, no one seemed close enough to talk to Cowan. The South Africans had gone hard at him in the morning, and probably didn't want to chat with him. The umpire was not around either. It was like everyone had left him alone so he could have a moment to himself, but all he wanted was someone to come over and talk to him.
The man had just made a Test hundred but he looked so alone. For a while he just stood at the non-striker's end, waiting for everyone to get into their place for the next over.
Perhaps he knew the cameras were still on him and didn't want to look smug, but I don't think so. I think he genuinely couldn't believe how lucky he was, and really had no idea what to do next. It was like he was waiting for Clarke or an umpire to give him instructions on how to act.
In a shield match he probably would have just made the century and relaxed, but this wasn't a shield match, even if the crowd size hinted it was.
Everything has changed for Cowan now. In some eyes he was the walking dead. A middling middle-aged cricketer one bad shot from the end of his career. It looked like Test attacks had worked him out. There were articles suggesting he'd be first out of the team. Too defensive. Not enough runs. Rob Quiney and Shane Watson wanting his spot.
And then he makes that Test century, and has about 45 seconds to think about it.
Cowan has spent his whole life trying to make that century, he's probably thought about how he would celebrate, which ground it would happen at, where his wife would be, maybe even how he'd raise his bat. No one teaches you what to do next. There was no Friday Night Lights swelling of the music; just crowd hum and Cowan standing on his own.
Eventually Cowan put his helmet on and tried to get back into the headspace you need to be in to face Morne Morkel. The only difference about the next ball was that he faced it having achieved something that no one would have believed possible a year before. Ed Cowan is now a Test centurion.