The next Cowdrey off the rank
"If I retired now, statistically I'd be the best Cowdrey. I was joking about that with my Mum the other day."
There's no such thing as a cricketing gene. At least, no scientist of note has ever bothered to search for it. Yet, if cricket were a gene, Fabian Cowdrey would almost certainly have it carved into every chromosome in his body. Born into cricketing blue blood, the Tonbridge-educated youngster with the puppy dog face and cheeky grin is the grandson of the late, great, Lord Colin Cowdrey, son of former England allrounder Chris Cowdrey, and as if that wasn't pedigree enough, nephew of Kent legend Graham Cowdrey.
The 20-year-old Cowdrey has burst onto the scene this year making an exciting half-century in a T20 against Surrey in front of the television cameras in July, before crushing a 30-ball 52 in a Yorkshire Bank 40 against Worcestershire a few weeks later. A quick glance of his batting quickly reveals his apparent appetite for a cover drive. Perhaps that is no surprise. It was his grandfather's favourite shot.
If not inevitable, there was always a fighting chance that there would be a third generation of the Cowdrey clan playing first-class cricket. The chances increased when two Cowdreys arrived in one go on January 30, 1993. Twins. Both boys. Luck could not have dealt a better hand - the two boys grew up fiercely competitive. Garden cricket became so much more than a game. Predictably there were fights, as with any siblings.
"It was a case of always trying to do better than the other brother," Fabian explained. "I used to wind Julius up, telling him I was a better singer (he is now a musician), and he used to tell me he was the better cricketer. We're still competitive, but I think it's eased off as the years have gone by."
Interestingly their parents have never told them which of the pair is older. Despite an undoubted similarity in look, the pair's characters are like chalk and cheese. Julius more relaxed, carefree from an early age about both life and his cricket; Fabian more intense, focussed and with one goal, from the start: to play professional cricket.
"My mum told me at the age of three that I whispered the words 'I want to play for England' to her, but I'm not sure I knew that many words to be honest," Fabian said. "But I do remember it was all I ever really wanted to do."
What influence did his grandfather have on that? "I remember playing in an Under-9s game at six years old. I was far too young, had no technique and was completely out of my depth. But I somehow managed to hit the winning runs. My grandfather was watching on, encouraging me. It's still one of my fondest cricketing memories."
Lord Cowdrey passed away the following year. "It was the only game he got to see me play in. It's quite surreal to think of it." He sounds moved at the thought.
Grandfather and grandson's careers share some remarkable similarities to this point. Both played for Kent's age group sides throughout their youth. Both also played a high standard of rackets. Indeed Colin used to head over to the rackets courts at Tonbridge before he batted to get his eye in. He used to find it prepared him far better than throw downs ever could. It is something which seems to have been passed on through the generations.
"The hand eye element is great," Fabian points out. "But most usefully it is probably the closest thing to fast bowling you can get. The reaction time is miniscule. I still try to play a bit now, when time allows."
The similarities do not stop there. Aside from both attending Tonbridge School, which has produced a plethora of professional cricketers throughout its prestigious history, both Cowdreys captained the first team. In Fabian's final year, he broke the great man's record for most runs in a school year, notching up more than 1,200 runs. They also both went on to university with the primary intention of playing cricket, neither being awarded a degree; Colin at Oxford, Fabian at Cardiff.
Originally it was never the young Cowdrey's plan to go to university. Upon being offered a contract after finishing at Tonbridge, he spent a year knuckling down, and doing his best to get into the first team. Yet no opportunity came. He scored runs in league cricket, but admitted struggling to make the transition from schoolboy cricket to the professional game.
"I didn't have the best year really. I think the addition of the family name brought a lot of pressure with it, and it's easy to forget the adjustment you have to make from school to facing bowling in the mid-80s. It's one thing being able to play a cover drive off a 70mph half volley, but can you play a pull shot off a bouncer at 85mph? That's a different ball game entirely."
With a few doubts in his mind about whether he would be able to progress at Kent, and feeling the need to take a break from the intensity of the county set up, Cowdrey headed to Cardiff under the tutelage of their MCCU head coach Mark O'Leary. He thrived.
"It has turned out to be one of the best decisions I have made" Cowdrey said. "I had the opportunity to live out the university lifestyle as well as really focussing on my cricket. It cleared my head.
"It took me out of my comfort zone in that I didn't have home just round the corner, and I was fending for myself a little bit. We had team practices three times a week, but a lot of the practice was down to us. Whereas some people focussed on their work, I was down in the nets at every spare opportunity. I also really enjoyed myself and met a lot of new people."
The results were apparent pretty quickly. A more content Cowdrey hit an impressive 62 for Cardiff against Glamorgan on his first-class debut in April. He was frustrated by two days of rain playing for his university against his home county a few weeks later, but not before he'd made 23 against opening bowlers Charlie Shreck and Mark Davies. He was not out before the rain came.
He returned from Cardiff in June, having decided to focus solely on cricket once again, and discontinue his studies. Yet he had to wait for the club's top order to consistently fail before getting his opportunity mid-way through Twenty20 season.
"If you go away and perform, and your opportunities are coming, then you can't complain," Cowdrey said. "It's when you're getting those runs and no opportunities come, that it is difficult.
"But Jimmy Adams always has your best interests at heart, it's one of his great strengths as a coach. He was a young player once too, so has been through it all. Besides, when the chances did start to come, I couldn't have asked for more."
One cannot help but think that his long wait for an opportunity has perhaps made him hungrier, especially after lugging drinks onto the field for several days in June. As in any dressing room, his time on twelfth man duties drew its fair share of gentle, and not so gentle, chiding from his teammates. The youngster's plummy obsession with calling everyone "old boy" caused Rob Key to ban the phrase. When Cowdrey slipped, his punishment was two rounds of grievous bodily harm in the boxing ring with Ben Harmison.
"Oh God," Cowdrey chuckles as I mention it. "Time doesn't really fly when you're in a ring with six foot five lad from Durham. He's obviously been in for some severe bullying from his brother over the years, and I think he rather enjoyed getting his own back on me. It was probably the scariest experience of the year. Far worse than any fast bowler I've faced."
Apart from taking evasive action from his team-mates, Cowdrey is starting to relish his time at Kent. "Seeing my grandfather's name on the stand, and practically every honours board put a lot of pressure on at first. Now I'm accustomed to it. At the moment I can't see myself anywhere but Kent, and it's a lovely place to be with all the history." As if to reinforce his words, Cowdrey signed a new two-year deal at the start of September.
Yet when pushed, he admits that the importance of getting opportunities in the longer form of the game - he is yet to break into Kent's Championship side - or perhaps playing Division One cricket might be the make-or-break as to whether he stays a one-county man like his grandfather, or follows his father's path, who moved to Glamorgan at the end of his career.
"It's an interesting dilemma," he muses. "I'm very happy at the moment, but I'll go where my career takes me. If I have to move, then I'll move."
But for now, he's intent on continuing to work hard and is determined to represent the county in all formats. "I want to get into the Championship team and try to make a name for myself in that. I'm also heading out to Brisbane for a few months this winter to play some club cricket, and work on the short ball. I might try and catch a few Tests out there too."
He may have only played 12 professional games, but the next Cowdrey off the rank has already made quite an impression. Arriving at Tonbridge aged 13, he overcame the enormous expectations of him. There was a house, and even a sports scholarship named after Cowdrey! At Canterbury there is a stand named after Cowdrey. That is quite some pressure. Pressure can burst a pipe or make a diamond. If the latter applies to Fabian, and he can live up to these great expectations, perhaps scientists should start searching for that cricket chromosome after all.
Alastair Mavor was at Tonbridge School between 2002 and 2007. He blogs at www.coverpointsport.com.