November 15, 2012

The hundred Ed had to have

Cowan's century at the Gabba was a celebration of bloody-minded determination over hope

More than anyone, the first Test match, at the Gabba, belonged to Ed Cowan. More even than to Michael Clarke, whose exceptional innings was worth nearly double the one by his opening batsman. Cowan's performance was a celebration of the power of the mind; of sheer bloody-minded determination over hope. It was proof that if you want something badly enough, you are in with a chance. Think Gary Kirsten and the early days of Alastair Cook, and now think Ed Cowan. Left-handers all, without the Lara genius or the Gower grace but with a common call - thou shalt not pass. The appeal of cricket comes as much from the artisan as from the artist. Thus Cowan rewards the viewer as, say, Hashim Amla might do, but without the raw material. You will not bask in Cowan's strokeplay, but you will rise to his achievement.

Test cricket is about need, not want. We all want things, material or otherwise. Most of us want to be appreciated, for example, but don't necessarily push the boat out to ensure that we are. Golfers want birdies, tennis players points, footballers goals, but just how far will they go in pursuit of their currency? Desperation for success is a fascination. For a time, it appeared there was something almost ethereal about the way in which Roger Federer was able to glide in and out of points, never compromised. In contrast Rafael Nadal, Novak Djokovic and Andy Murray were torn apart by the outrage of fortune or otherwise. To Federer a point was a symphony, to his rivals it was heavy metal. In the days they could not catch him, they appeared about to burst. There are few sights so riveting as the implosion of the desperate sportsman. And it is that same desperation that has led them to catch him now, so, at last, the spoils are shared.

Recorders used to say that the reason West Indian cricketers reached such heights in the 1980s were the options. Like Brazilian soccer players who might otherwise have been lain to rest in the favelas that were once their home, sport was a way out. But Cowan was a Cranbrook boy, a Sydney school so elite that James Packer is among its alumni. No need of a way out for him. Private education softens such a man, does it not? Hardly. Cowan is teak. Ask Steyn and Morkel.

Ed Cowan did not just want this hundred, he absolutely had to have it. There was no other way. A hundred or bust and Ed Cowan is too smart to bust

Australian cricketers do not leave New South Wales without good reason. Adam Gilchrist went west because he could not get a regular game. Good reason. Cowan feared the same as the selectors' affection turned to Phillip Hughes and Usman Khawaja (there is irony in the fact that both these batsmen have recently moved to new states themselves, without compelling reason). Cowan chose somewhere that needed him, which meant Tasmania. It is a mainly cold place by Australian standards, and without Sydney's lights. But it is the place where David Boon and Ricky Ponting made the runs of their youth. That was good enough for Cowan.

You only have to read his columns on these pages to know how much thought and application will have gone into this Gabba debut hundred. Perhaps it was a plot, set for November 9th 2012. There was then a brilliance in the delay of its execution. Almost a day and a half in the field and another in the dressing room, dreaming the dreams of glory and fulfilment, while the rain and the South African batsmen threatened to derail the plot.

Mid-afternoon, Monday, 12th November. 12/11/12, Ed's day. A year on from the passing of Peter Roebuck, an early mentor. South Africa with 450 on the board, not part of the plot. Dale Steyn at the end of his run. Ed fidgets, settles. Steyn sprints and delivers. Fast, accurate, and Ed, bat idiosyncratically held aloft, leaves safely alone. The plot is underway. Steyn, at the completion of his follow-through, stares. Likes what he sees. The ball swung back a little and carried at pace through to the wicketkeeper. He turns back for his mark. Ed fidgets, settles. Steyn sprints and delivers a fine ball, straight as an arrow and full in length.

Cowan plays the forward-defensive shot of his life. Perfect, flawless. Big stride, full face so that Steyn could read the bat maker's name. The ball rolled back, de-armed. Get past that buddy boy. Plot operational. For the next six hours and 16 minutes - 257 balls in all - there was no flourish, just blocks and nudges and pulls and cuts and the occasional check drive. In such denial there is satisfaction.

Three years in the making, since the day the Cowan clan upped sticks from safe old Sydney and went to the land of the Tasmanian devil. Hour upon hour of net practice, analysis, soul-searching, and puke-making training, all because this cricketer simply must make runs for Australia. Without them he is unfulfilled. The need is so great that sacrifice is a given. Ed Cowan did not just want this hundred, he absolutely had to have it. There was no other way. A hundred or bust and Ed Cowan is too smart to bust.

Mark Nicholas, the former Hampshire captain, presents the cricket on Channel 9 in Australia and Channel 5 in the UK

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • stuart on November 18, 2012, 19:06 GMT

    Jonesey2.Yeah that will be the best opening line up.Warner has so much talent??? Does it not seem an irony to you that your players only improve when they play some proper cricket in England. Even our system could not improve phil hughes though

  • Allan on November 17, 2012, 12:12 GMT

    @moppa I agree that Khawaja will be back soon in the team, he is leading shield batsman this year and scoring in tough conditions. Boof rated his innings against Tas as the best he has seen and his fielding and running looks very sharp under Boof. can't wait to see him back in the Aussie team

  • Andrew on November 17, 2012, 4:15 GMT

    @Robert Cerff - what a fantastic comment. Bravo!

  • Noor on November 17, 2012, 1:12 GMT

    I'm a real fan of Cowan, he definitely adds much solidity at the top of the order and offers variety to a batting lineup that is almost composed entirely of extravagant stroke makers to varying degrees. Considering the way he largely waited for short balls wide of off stump or balls into his body or pads for runs until he got going, I'll be interested to see how he goes against the South Africans on the slower Adelaide pitch. Surely they've learned a lesson or two about where to bowl to him.

  • Randolph on November 16, 2012, 14:31 GMT

    What's happening to England Mark?

  • Scott on November 16, 2012, 10:07 GMT

    Of all the hundreds scored in this test match, I think Cowan's was the most well played. Both Amla and Kallis had their fair share of luck and Clarke's was by far the most fortunate of the lot with his leading edges and short ball disasters. As much as I've not been a fan of Cowan, I was certainly a fan of this innings. The way he played those two pull shots off Steyn showed that he was very determined. And in the end he was extremely unlucky to be sent back to the pavillion. Credit to the bloke, it was a very good knock. As for Khawaja, I think @Moppa there has summed it up rather nicely, 9 innings, 1 half century and 7 20+ scores. These 7 digs are the type of innings that go against guys making the step up. The fact that you've made a start and then not produced is almost as negatively viewed as geting rumbled by a good one for 0. If his shield form is that good, then it won't be long before he gets another shot. Sometimes a spell can make u hungry, a la Hayden...Here's hoping, huh

  • Guy on November 16, 2012, 5:25 GMT

    I'm also very happy for Ed Cowan, pleased to see his dedication paying off. Re Khawaja's run in the Test side, he played 3 Tests consecutively from debut, the Sydney Test @James Miller mentions, and then the first two in Sri Lanka (in August). The second of which was when he was declared on and didn't get a decent hit. He was then dropped when Ponting returned, and reinstated for the second Test in South Africa when Marsh was injured (missing 2 Tests in between, including the Cape Town debacle). In Jo'burg he top-scored with 65 in the 2nd innings chase (his only Test 50 so far). Then he was run-out for 44 or so in Brisbane v NZ and then struggled in Hobart before being dropped. I consider Khawaja a great prospect and a bit unlucky - he'll be back soon, don't worry. He's been fairly consistent but not amazing in the Test side - 7 scores of 20+ from 9 completed innings, but only 1 50...

  • Dummy4 on November 16, 2012, 5:01 GMT

    Well... didn't know much of Ed as a cricketer being that I live in South Africa. I have followeed his columns and he seems to have really applied a lot of thought and dedication to his game. All round likeable guy. That said, I couldn't help but cheer him on to his hundred despite it taking the game from us.

    Good luck Ed... :)

  • Andrew on November 16, 2012, 0:39 GMT

    Well done Ed, said somewhere else, one of the things I enjoyed was, for once he had a bloke who made a statment prior to the match & ACTUALLY carried out what he meant to achieve. Hopefully, this is the catalyst to an Ed Cowan who has the confidence to play a pull shot or two & tick the scoring over. I will be VERY interested to see how he goes against Tahir, as I don't think Cowan has showed the style/application to do well on turning tracks. Happy for him to be our opener in England, but unsure whther touring INdia will be good for him!

  • Rahul on November 15, 2012, 23:14 GMT

    @James Miller is correct, Khawaja made his debut against England in the Ashes in Clarke's first test and looked fantastic. Thereafter he only got 1-2 games at a time never really having time to establish himself. 2 games before getting dropped he got 80 odd against the South African attack on a lively pitch so he was very unlucky. This year he looks fantastic and is the best shield batsman so far so hopefully we will see him back soon. @Hyclass disagree with you mate on Cowan, he batted well under pressure.

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