December 25, 2011

Being Eddie

Ed Cowan left the egos and personalities of NSW behind to forge a career with Tasmania, where his calm, happy demeanour helped his team-mates. It should help the national side as well

For a man who has bared his deepest thoughts and doubts in a diary of last summer, Ed Cowan's greatest attribute in the dressing room is quite the opposite of brooding introspection. It is an even temperament his Tasmania team-mates revere him for - so much so that younger members of the squad aspire to Cowan's unflappable attitude.

The Tigers captain, George Bailey, appears frequently in the book, often training one-on-one with the author, and at one point exchanging emails as they debate Cowan's place in the state's Twenty20 plans. Bailey has been as privy to Cowan's erudite, analytical mind as anyone, and he points to the lack of peaks and troughs in Cowan's dressing room mien as among the most valuable additions he has brought to the state since he moved down from New South Wales in 2009. It is the same strength of mind much desired by national selector John Inverarity in his vision for the Australian side.

"He doesn't fluctuate," Bailey said. "If he has a couple of bad games he doesn't suddenly change too much in terms of how he's preparing, and his attitude doesn't change much. That's a strength of his, and it has been impressed upon us in the Tasmania team.

"I'm sure within himself he battles those demons, but around the team you don't see that. He's very level-headed in terms of his performance. Whether that is scoring hundreds or scoring a duck, that same bubbly, smiling, chatty Eddie Cowan comes through the doors at training every day, and that is a great trait for a cricketer or a sportsman.

"It's something that I think he's brought to the team and he talks to the young guys a lot about, and something we certainly try to impress upon our younger players. You can have good days and bad days, but if you are sure that the way you're preparing is the right way to do it, there's no need for radical changes."

Cowan's reassuring visage around the team is no accident, but it was not something he always had. Before joining Tasmania, he spent six years on the fringes of the NSW team, carrying the drinks as often as not, and sitting far less comfortably alongside cricketers groomed in a far more merciless environment than that found at Bellerive Oval. Given the breadth of talent competing for a baggy-blue cap, NSW cricketers are expected to sink or swim. More than once Cowan sank, as the unflattering average of 26.10 in his 21 first-class appearances for the state might attest.

"What he hadn't had was continuity in his position and in his role in NSW cricket," Bailey said. "Whether that was good form or bad form, he couldn't keep his spot in the side, so the one thing we offered him was, if you perform, here's an extended stint in the opening position."

Cowan is certainly not the first from NSW to take the opportunity to move somewhere for a more regular spot, as Bailey points out. "I don't think it is the first team you look at if you want to relax and not be looking over your shoulder and playing for survival. He [is] someone who truly loved the game and wanted to give it one last crack at having a really good go."

The "fair go" is supposedly a universal Australian concept, but in cricket it may be best exemplified by Tasmania. Granted the chance to make a spot his own, Cowan began to flourish, emerging as the stolid opening bat and thoughtful and influential team man Bailey desired.

"I think when Michael Hussey started his career for Australia they talked about him being the best leaver in Australian cricket, and I think Eddie has that mantle now in terms of domestic cricket"
Tasmania captain George Bailey on Cowan's batting

"I don't think it is a bad thing for NSW cricket, but we just don't have the egos in the dressing room in Tassie," Bailey said. "Someone like Ed, who is great to sit down and talk cricket to, I'm not sure he had the opportunity to express that much in the rooms in NSW. There were probably a lot of people there whose opinions were more highly sought and considered more correct. So for him to be able to come down and start to express those more freely, and be so highly respected within the rooms, was really good for him."

Thus empowered, Cowan started to make runs in the volume that would get him noticed. Possessing a fundamentally sound technique well suited to the challenges of Hobart's often testy pitches, he had managed to overcome a few hitches down the years, notably a handful of early struggles against offspin.

An innings of 225 out of 389 against South Australia early in his first season with the Tigers provided a significant indicator of his potential for occupation of the crease. It remains his tallest tally, made while the rest fell to the swing and bounce of the one-time Test beanpole Peter George.

"I think when Michael Hussey started his career for Australia they talked about him being the best leaver in Australian cricket, and I think Eddie has that mantle now in terms of domestic cricket," Bailey said.

"He's got the capacity to bat for a long time, he's got the capacity to see off great spells of bowling, and what he's been able to do recently is on the back of good confidence and knowing his game so well, he's now able to start to punish bowling as well.

"One of the things I like about his four-day cricket is, he's pretty consistent in terms of if he gets a bad ball early he will put it away; if he gets a bad ball later he'll do the same. He doesn't accelerate too much, he doesn't get to 60 and think 'I'm in now, so I'll start playing a huge array of shots.' He just plays each ball as it is coming down.

"One-day cricket has challenged him to accelerate his scoring at times and look at different options, but I think if you look at his four-day cricket and where he scores, he's pretty well-rounded - he scores on both sides of the wicket, good off the front foot, good off the back foot, and he's highly competent against spin."

Spin has been less of a factor on Australian wickets in recent times than seam and swing, precisely the kinds of bowling that the team's batsmen have so struggled to combat in recent matches. Cowan's ability to fight through the best spells of skilled pacemen on sporting pitches has been evident quite consistently for Tasmania, typified by this year's Shield final, when he blunted the speed of Pat Cummins over more than six hours of obduracy.

"We've played on some pretty challenging wickets over the years in Shield cricket. I think Bellerive has proven since Eddie's been there to be a challenging wicket, and he's scored runs on that," Bailey said. "He's scored runs on just about every ground we've played at now, and he gets them in big games. Going on from his Shield final and a couple of tour games this year, the Australia A game last year [against England], he looked pretty good in both innings.

"That stems back to the fact he approaches each game the same. Even hearing him talk about the Boxing Day Test and shutting out the 80,000 people who are there, and just concentrate on the bat-versus-ball contest, and if he does that I've no doubt he'll succeed in Test cricket."

Aiding Cowan on Boxing Day will be the presence of David Warner at the other end. Like Cowan, Warner was forced to subsist on scraps of first-class selection for some time in NSW - the difference being that he was able to make his name in T20 matches all the while. Their marriage of aggression and consideration recalls many of the best opening partnerships. Bailey, for one, can see a future for the duo that extends well beyond the MCG Test.

"There is a nice feel to the way they bat together," Bailey said. "It looked pretty good in Brisbane [for Australia A v New Zealand]. The way Davey will punish the bowling if he gets in will allow Ed to not feel too much scoring pressure and just be able to bat the way he bats.

"Vice versa, I think Davey will flourish knowing he's got a solid partner at the other end - a great leaver of the ball and someone prepared to bat long periods of time.

"The opening partnership for Australia in Test cricket is so important, and if you think back to our more successful periods that's been the key area, so it'd be great to see a bit of longevity and a bit of faith shown in these two."

A little bit of faith and clarity shown by Tasmania allowed Cowan to grow from a junior member of the Blues dressing room to a senior one in the Tigers', and from a player of potential into one meriting a Test cap. It also helped him develop the temperament now so admired among team-mates and coaches old and new. And to pen a book. "All those things have just allowed him to be himself," Bailey said. "That is the most important thing, and the key to his success: he's just allowed to be Eddie."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • dummy4fb on December 27, 2011, 16:11 GMT

    please bring back harsha bhogle, sunil gavaskar and alan wilkins in the commentary panel.without them the commentary is geting boring.i specially woke up at 4am to hear the views of harsha bhogle on cricket extra but was shocked to see that he was not in the commentary team this time with ESS anymore....i liked his insights and views...he was the face star cricket....what happened to star cricket??? star cricke was known for its high class commentary team but not anymore...wasim akram and tom moody are good but not as good as harsha bhogle. without him..the coverage is really getting boring...please bring them back...:/ :/

  • BillyCC on December 26, 2011, 22:04 GMT

    @Chris_P, sadly for you, I seem to know a lot more than you about cricket and about reason. Firstly, the facts. Divide 90 by 2 and you roughly get Cowan's average over the past 2.5 Shield seasons. He averaged 53 in 2009/10, a bad 34 in 2010/11 and currently 54 in 2011/12. Where is the sustained excellence? I'm only using North as an example of someone who had that excellence when he got picked for Australia at the age of 30. Back then, he was averaging close to 50 over a period of 10 years. Not surprised you didn't mention Hussey which would have also proved my point, who has outperformed Cowan over the past 2.5 seasons and is also averaging 54 in the current Shield season, but lacks the four centuries in a row. And your Indian batsman argument makes no sense. My argument is about picking batsman relative to their age and form. Usually Australian test selectors have picked youth and form but have picked older players combined with record (M.Hussey, Lehmann, Hodge etc.)

  • Dravid_Pujara_Gravitas on December 26, 2011, 16:10 GMT

    Wow, getting to know more about Ed! Lovely person. Glad to know more about him. Gosh, I didn't even know that he is a regular writer on Cricinfo until a week ago...

  • BillyCC on December 26, 2011, 13:42 GMT

    @puntersmen, it wasn't a case of choosing an opener but if you really want to argue, then yes, North is an opener and Hussey is a number 3 with Marsh able to take the opening spot. What I'm talking about is sustained first class records vs form. The rewards of sustained first class records in Australian test selection are few and far between. Brad Hodge, Martin Love, Michael Di Venuto, David Hussey, Phil Jaques etc are examples of players consistently overlooked in the past for either youth or form despite having superior sustained records.

  • njr1330 on December 26, 2011, 13:29 GMT

    Billy CC ... can I give you the name of an Englishman, whose county average hardly ever got above 30 ... Marcus Trescothick...he went effectively, from Somerset 2nds into the Test team... the rest as they say, is history !!

  • dummy4fb on December 26, 2011, 12:39 GMT

    @Chris_p ohow....Cowan is just one match old my friend....Do not compare him with the first 6 Indian batters...they are masters of class and each one is a legend in there game play...In India we have players who average more than 90 in past 3 Domestic tournaments with triple centuries in there pocket and still waiting to be called...Cowan is an example of Australia's crisis..I do not think he will with stand more in International arena....He is more 1984 than 2011..I hope you know what I mean...

  • dummy4fb on December 26, 2011, 9:24 GMT

    Cowans batted okay, however can he sustain that level of concentration at the Test arena?

  • azzaman333 on December 26, 2011, 5:44 GMT

    First test in, and Cowan already has the best temperament in the Australian batting lineup. Really admire the way he's been playing so far today, leaves anything he can, defends well, and when the bowler puts a bad ball in his slot, he punishes it. Exactly the sort of player we need in the top order to compliment the aggressive play of Warner, Ponting and Clarke.

  • Chris_P on December 26, 2011, 4:00 GMT

    @tusharkardile. Tha's Ed Cowan to you, that's who. @BillyCC. Do you know anything about cricket? The last 2 years, Ed Cowan has averaged over 90, I would think that considers deserved selection for the national team. Marcus North, fyi, is averaging less than 35 the last 2 years, go figure it out for yourself. You say Cowan is old? He is younger than 6 of the first 7 Indian batters, so what is it you are trying to say, drop the 6 Indian batsmen as they are too old?

  • puntersmen on December 26, 2011, 2:46 GMT

    BillyCC, David Hussey and Marcus North opening batsman are they? North makes more scores under 20 than a supposed top order batter should remember the ashes last year and his record in the shield is exactly the same, as for being too old Ed is 29 and was player of the match in the shield final the closest thing to a test match there is and he faced a decent attack ie Pat Cummings so very much deserves a chance.

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