December 5, 2000

Michael Colin Cowdrey 1932-2000

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One of the greatest acts of cricketing courage I have seen was that of a 41 year-old man, summoned from England in the middle of winter to bolster an injury-ridden Test squad in Australia, taking strike at the WACA against the two fastest bowlers in the world. A man who withstood the bouncers, took the body-blows, and defied the most ferocious of fast bowling, all in the name of England. That man was Michael Colin Cowdrey.

Colin Cowdrey died early this morning, England time, at the age of 67. He had been ill since suffering a stroke in July.

Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, as he had been known since his elevation to the peerage in 1997, served the game with distinction as a player, captain and administrator for more than half a century. The first person to play in 100 Tests, his England career began on the 1954-55 tour of Australia and New Zealand as a 21 year-old. It ended in Australia twenty years later when he was called out from England in December 1974 as an emergency player after injuries to key batsmen. He played out the final five matches of that series, finishing with an unprecedented 114 Test appearances to his name.

His career aggregate of 7624 Test runs (at an average of 44.06 with 22 centuries) was at the time a world record, as was his record for a nonwicketkeeper of 120 catches, many taken at slip.

Among his greatest batting achievements was his contribution to a fourthwicket partnership of 411 - which is one world record that still stands - in tandem with Peter May against the West Indies at Edgbaston in 1957. Cowdrey scored 154, while May, who died in 1994, made 285 not out.

His highest Test score, 182, was achieved at The Oval against Pakistan in 1962.

Frequently chosen as vice-captain on overseas tours, his first opportunity to captain England came against India in 1959, but it wasn't until the late sixties that he led his country with any regularity. With his last Test as England captain in Pakistan in 1969, after which the mantle was passed to Ray Illingworth, Cowdrey had a record of 8 wins and 4 losses in 27 Tests at the helm.

Colin Cowdrey celebrated his unprecedented 100th Test appearance, at Edgbaston against Australia in 1968, in the only way possible - by scoring a hundred.

Though the courage of his defiance of Lillee and Thomson in 1974-75 remains strong in my memory, a look back at the archive footage recalls an even more courageous episode in Cowdrey's career. At Lord's in 1963, his arm broken by West Indies speedster Wes Hall, England needed six to win, two balls remaining, and the ninth wicket down. If Cowdrey didn't bat, the match would be over and West Indies would win.

Cowdrey came to the crease, his left arm in plaster, and, with the batsmen having crossed at the fall of the ninth wicket, took his place at the nonstriker's end. David Allen blocked the final two balls from Hall and the match was drawn.

Cowdrey had a long and successful career for Kent in the county championship, stretching from 1950 to 1976. He also represented Oxford University from 1952 to 1954. In 692 first-class appearances, he scored 42,719 runs at an average of 42.89 with 107 centuries. His highest score was 307 for the Marylebone Cricket Club against South Australia at the Adelaide Oval in 1962-63.

The youngest person ever to play at Lord's, as a 13 year-old schoolboy, Cowdrey's association with the game extended well beyond his retirement as a competitive player at the age of 43. In 1986-87 he served a one-year term as president of the organisation with whom he shares his initials - the MCC. From 1989 to 1993 he served as president of the International Cricket Council, a period which saw great change in the operations of the ICC itself as well as the return to international cricket of South Africa.

Cowdrey was president of the Kent County Cricket Club at the time of his death, having been appointed earlier this year.

The second of three generations of first-class cricketers, Michael Colin Cowdrey was born on 24 December 1932 at Putumala, India. His father, Ernest, made one first-class appearance for Europeans in the Bombay Quadrangular Tournament in 1926-27. His sons, Chris and Graham, had successful playing careers, primarily for Kent. Chris played intermittently for England and was elevated to captain during the 1988 series against the West Indies.