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Former Hampshire batsman; host of Channel Nine's cricket coverage

The hundred Ed had to have

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

Mark Nicholas

November 15, 2012

Comments: 33 | Text size: A | A

Ed Cowan celebrates his maiden Test century, Australia v South Africa, 1st Test, 4th day, Brisbane, November 12, 2012
Cowan: thought, application and desperate desire © Getty Images
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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

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Posted by hhillbumper 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

Posted by Paul_Rampley 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

Posted by Meety on (November 17, 2012, 4:15 GMT)

@Robert Cerff - what a fantastic comment. Bravo!

Posted by nthuq 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.

Posted by RandyOZ on (November 16, 2012, 14:31 GMT)

What's happening to England Mark?

Posted by ScottStevo 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

Posted by Moppa 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...

Posted by   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... :)

Posted by Meety 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!

Posted by Sunil_Batra 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.

Posted by IndCricFan2013 on (November 15, 2012, 22:26 GMT)

Could not agree more, "determination over hope". That is what the youngsters need to learn from Cowan.

Posted by paddy-k on (November 15, 2012, 21:10 GMT)

great article by Mark! i've always admired Cowan's grit. even on the flatest of tracks, great batsmen still fail to make runs so it doesnt matter the surface, a hundred is a hundred and hats off to Ed. test cricket needs such talent to retain relevance in the face of the successes of shorter formats

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 14:20 GMT)

I'm very happy for the bloke, he obviously works very hard to achieve his goals. Some commentors are questioning the role of the pitch in his making a 100, but I believe with his technique he is more than likely able to score runs anywhere, hopefully now he has the belief to make it happen more often.

Posted by MrPud on (November 15, 2012, 13:26 GMT)

Aaah Popcorn, you hit the nail on the head. A new Langer in the making, maybe not the most attractive batsman but he plays within his limitations and works bloody hard. Well done Ed.

Posted by BigDataIsAHoax on (November 15, 2012, 12:37 GMT)

Nice article. But, looks like Nicholas is pretending that his focus is on AUS-SA and not India-England. Ha! We know better.

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 12:12 GMT)

This was a flat track like the ones you get in the Subcontinent. Just look at the scores. Would be intrested to see how he fares when we get the promised spicy wickets.

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 11:46 GMT)

hate to correct you all, but Khawaja made his debut in the 5th Ashes test of 2010/2011, which was also Clarke's first match as test match captain (not officially but with Ponting out injured) if memory serves Khawaja made a really tough looking mid 30ish, considering England won by an innings and a 100 +, his 37 was one of the picks of our demolition.

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 11:34 GMT)

congrats cowan!!! now watto should have a tough time getting back into the australian setup unless quiney keeps failing.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 15, 2012, 11:31 GMT)

Ross_Fleming and Chris_P are correct, Khawaja wasn't given the same chance as the other younger batsman but like you guys said he is leading shield scorer this year and is doing great for Qld so a return to the baggy green should come soon. Hyclass you need to be more positive mate, seriously why all the negativity, Cowan did well, give him credit.

Posted by jonesy2 on (November 15, 2012, 10:40 GMT)

the beauty of ed magnificent innings was he was so assured of what he was doing, never looked like getting out and the SA bowlers simply couldnt get him out and didnt. it was one of the most faultless innings you will ever see. him and warner have all the right stuff to become one of the great opening partnerships. best thing about ed is his brain, he is smart but not only that he is cool, measured, thoughtful. and that makes batting so simple for him. this is way it guts me not to see a cowan, warner, khawaja top order. i would rank that the best top order in test cricket.

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 10:16 GMT)

Hughes will never play for Australia, again, once a wood-chopper, always a wood-chopper, still don`t understand how he moved through the grades. Don`t any of them NSW, country Captains, or Grade Captains, employ a fly-slip, and keep pushing him back, on the Off-stump. Khawaja is a different story, he can play, just needs too decide on which 4th & 5th stump ball, he needs to play or leave alone, just like Cowan, Khawaja has heaps more talent, just needs to learn to graft a little more. We have the batsmen, but they are not being groomed properly, why are all the young, NSW talented batsmen, leaving this state. That`s the question, that needs to be asked, Just Sayin`

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 6:38 GMT)

Cmon guys, this is not Hyclass but HycIass, an imitator.

Posted by KhanMitch on (November 15, 2012, 5:33 GMT)

@Nick Franklin can i correct you on Khawaja mate, Khawaja was given 1 game in Sri Lanka where he got 15 not out as the team declared given how well Hussey and Marsh batted in that test. In the next series he played 1 game in South Africa where he top scored 80 chasing a record 300 chase, got run out for 40 in the next game against NZ in gabba and was dropped next game. He didn't have many games to prove himself but saying that I do think Cowan batted well on the weekend and not taking anything away from it, however Khawaja wasn't afforded the same opportunities. As leading shield scorer i do think he will be back in the green and gold colors soon.

Posted by Seoul-Survivor on (November 15, 2012, 5:27 GMT)

HycIass, actually I disagree with you... I believe a century is worth celebrating, particularly after 8 less that fantastic performances. As a player, the centruy is a special reward that also brings not only accolades but confidence and continued form. Hats off to Ed, I think it was tough, calculated, tenacious and best of all, hard earned. Thanks for the article Mark, except for the tennis bit :)

Posted by popcorn on (November 15, 2012, 5:23 GMT)

Ed Cowan reminds me of 'Alfie' Justin Langer. A true opener. Your place,mate.

Posted by Cam_PT on (November 15, 2012, 5:00 GMT)

Great article Mark. The last paragraph brought a tear to my eye.

This article is about hard work overcoming talent. To mention guys like Hughes and Marsh just reconfirms what this article is about. Please reread and comment sensibly next time.

Posted by Amol_Ind_SA on (November 15, 2012, 4:39 GMT)

The article is lovely...was lovely...until the reference of heavy metal in a negative shade. Why is heavy metal always misunderstood ?? I have a collection of and also love both Classical and Heavy metal.

Posted by Chris_P on (November 15, 2012, 4:27 GMT)

@HycIass. Um, Marsh, vs India 4 tests for 17 runs. I mean, seriously, you wanted to keep him? Khawaja I agree should have been given a go, however he is making a statement now with his move interstate, & with form comes confidence. Hughes was going well until someone decided to "fix" up his technique. He is slowly returning back to the batsman he first was when he was playing shots all round the wicket. Cowan, whether you like him or not, has been the form opener in Australian first class cricket the past 2 seasons, ergo his rightful selection. He has scored a ton, why not give him credit?

Posted by Kolpak1989 on (November 15, 2012, 4:11 GMT)

Smashing article baby. Ed Cowan is a gritty, old-school opener. Love watching him bat. His powers of concentration at the Gabba were reminiscent of Greg Chappell.

Posted by KhanMitch on (November 15, 2012, 3:58 GMT)

@Hyclass disagree with you on Cowan, he played well. However I would bring in either of Khawaja or Doolan if there was another injury as they have been the best batsman this year in shield

Posted by   on (November 15, 2012, 3:56 GMT)

@HycLass, Do you not pay any attention to cricket at all? Hughes was given plenty of games to make runs. Khawaja was given a debut on flat decks of Sri Lanka, as well as Marsh. And regardless of the pitch it was a century scored againsts the worlds 1,2 and 9 ranked bowlers. They should of had the skills to bowl a team out on a flat deck.

Posted by Mary_786 on (November 15, 2012, 3:54 GMT)

Hyclass you continue to be negative about Cowan, give the guy some credit. You also made unfair critisms of Khawaja and Hughes in the same manner so it seems you don't like to see any batsman do well. The fact is that Cowan batted well. And with Khawaja, Hughes and Doolan making solid shield runs the future of Aus batting stocks looks good. All 3 of these guys are leading run scorers this year with Hughes at 350, Doolan at 380 and Khawaja at 430 runs so the future looks good.

Posted by hycIass on (November 15, 2012, 3:25 GMT)

Cowan got his first century after 8 games on an absolute flat deck, i think that's hardly worth celeberating. And why were his counterparts such as Hughes, Khawaja and Marsh not given the amoung of time Cowan was given to establish themselves. Its one century, lets not start celeberating as if he is the answer to Australia's batting woes.

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Mark Nicholas A prolific and stylish middle-order batsman for Hampshire, Mark Nicholas was unlucky never to have played for England, but after captaining his county to four major trophies he made his reputation as a presenter, commentator and columnist. Named the UK Sports Presenter of the Year in 2001 and 2005 by the Royal Television Society, he has commentated all over the world, from the World Cup in the West Indies to the Indian Premier League. He now hosts the cricket coverage for Channel Nine in Australia and Channel 5 in England.

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