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November 12, 2012

South Africa in Australia 2012-13

Cowan's joyful loneliness

Jarrod Kimber
Ed Cowan celebrates his maiden Test century, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, 4th day, Brisbane, November 12, 2012
Couldn't have planned it: Ed Cowan has been waiting his whole life for a maiden Test century  © Getty Images
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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.

Jarrod Kimber is 50% of the Two Chucks, and the mind responsible for cricketwithballs.com

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© ESPN Sports Media Ltd.

Posted by Sorabh Pant on (November 13, 2012, 7:42 GMT)

Really fantastic piece. How seconds can mean so much for decades of toil. Many kudos to a very unassuming guy who stunted the world's most formidable pace attack with tremendous focus. Super stuff.

Posted by Richard on (November 13, 2012, 7:35 GMT)

Well written. I was at work when he scored it and nine didn't cover it very well. The man took Australia away from a disastrous position. Yet all the commentators at nine could concentrate on was how his backing up technique was floored. I am lucky enough to have the grandstand crew on 702 call the game with the tv volume set to zero.

Posted by Anonymous on (November 13, 2012, 7:29 GMT)

Fabulous writing, thanks do much for posting this article.

Posted by Greg on (November 13, 2012, 6:48 GMT)

Nice piece. You're right (you don't say it, but you suggest it) — there's something different about Ed Cowan, something special. Intelligence, definitely, but more than that. A self-awareness; a kind of gravitas. Clarke reckons he won't be hanging around, so it's not beyond possibility that he, Ponting and Hussey could all go together, or within a season. And Watson, who is a good Test player but a great limited overs one, might decide to save the body and concentrate on what he's good at. We'd have nobody left. So we might really need Ed Cowan and those special qualities. Here's hoping he gets to make a few more hundreds before that lands on him, if it does.

Posted by Brett on (November 13, 2012, 5:06 GMT)

Excellent piece. We have a view of cricket as seen through a TV camera and the editors idea of what we need to see. The reality is often missed - and with it the human side. Ed Cowan is not just a name for contributors here to vilfy or praise, the same as all other players out there. Significant personal achievements are often lost in commercial imperatives. Thanks for this one. Even if Justin Kimber's main claim to fame is butt documentaries!

Posted by shishir Biyyala on (November 13, 2012, 0:49 GMT)

I've always been a fan of this bloke; there isn't anything spectacular about him, but still comes across as a special guy. He's a fantastic writer, well-educated and assertive. Gives him that extra bit of class. He's more in the Rahul Dravid mould of 'keep-it-simple', 'cultured', 'I may not be the most flamboyant, but second to none in terms of resilience'. Good luck Edward James Cowan, keep working hard.

Posted by dinosaurus on (November 12, 2012, 23:20 GMT)

What a wonderful piece of writing. How I wish we didn't have all these ad breaks which rob the viewer of moments like this!

Posted by Rusty on (November 12, 2012, 20:40 GMT)

And Cowan will probably spend the rest of his life trying to make another one.

Posted by MJ on (November 12, 2012, 20:28 GMT)

You called Cowan's talent very early on Jarrod. Love your work. Very happy for Cowan to get his ton. He is a welcome return to the sound concept of leaving the moving ball, hitting the bad balls & generally blunting the new ball attack. That said, shame that the Gabba pitch produced for this test is as bland as dry toast. Wanted to see the best pace attack in the world showcase their talents on a pitch with the reputation for being the most helpful to swing in Australia. Would get to cut through the hype and get to see how close/far the Aussie bowlers are in comparison. Instead we've got a flat track that has only seen 13 wickets fall in three days. Curator fail.

Posted by James Rowland on (November 12, 2012, 20:22 GMT)

Brilliant article. So indicative of the private space you get into when you realise in an instant you have achieved something wonderful, difficult, and unique. I have always found century celebrations fascinating. They speak volumes about where the match, the batsman, the crowd and the man are at in that exact moment. The perfect example of this is Ricky Ponting's first hundred last summer. Very informative reaction. Well written.

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