Ed Cowan
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Tasmania and Australia top-order batsman

When cricket is like being in love

The heady feeling of playing in a Test match, which can lay bare your every emotion, is in some ways similar to the early days of a blooming romance

Ed Cowan

March 1, 2012

Comments: 72 | Text size: A | A

Ed Cowan drives on Test debut, Australia v India, 1st Test, Melbourne, 1st day, December 26, 2011
Like nothing else exists - just you and the ball © Getty Images
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Players/Officials: Ed Cowan
Series/Tournaments: India tour of Australia
Teams: Australia

In CS Lewis' The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe, Lucy steps into an everyday wardrobe and discovers Narnia, a vivid world of fantasy. When people have asked me about this cricket season, Narnia is the first word that comes to mind. Starting a Test career was like entering a realm of dreams made real. I was the same person, yet I was in an imaginary world where everything was epic and over the top. Somehow this quickly became a way of everyday life.

Like many, I grew up on a diet of Test cricket. The ritual of attending the SCG Test with my brothers was my richest memory of each summer, neatly contrasted with many a cold winter's night staying up well past my bedtime to see my heroes do battle in faraway lands I hadn't visited. In recent times, I have watched knowing many of the protagonists as friends.

There is unsurprisingly a significant difference between this and getting the opportunity to participate yourself. A much more poetic man than me, when I tried to describe to him the differences between watching Test cricket and first playing it, suggested it could be likened to that between reading a romance and experiencing it. It did make sense to me, for all the sensations had the similarity of the early throes of a love affair - exhilarating, aching and all-consuming. Every memory seemed unexplainably clearer - the moment heightening your sensory experience, stimulating you purely because your heart and head tell you that it is the pinnacle of the game, that there is simply no greater litmus test for you as a cricketer to take.

What makes Test cricket so special and distinct from any other format or level? Above all else, I think its defining dynamic is the fact that the winner is determined over a series - with drawn-out and repeated skirmishes and rivalries often decided over 20 days of cricket. This summer it was as though I played an innings of almost 12 hours and 432 balls (longer if I were to count the preceding tour game), across four magnificent grounds, over six weeks that at times felt like months. Of these, I chose not to hit many, and only did manage to hit 24 for four. Six of those 432 balls dismissed me.

It is this ongoing battle that makes Test cricket like no other examination - certainly drawn far enough out that the state of its participants' minds and bodies must be exposed. Each game of the series is played on a different surface, with its individual character testing the technique and temperament of bat and ball. This variety provided the greatest thrill - knowing individual players held the cards of advantage in certain conditions, but seeing them have to simply make do in others.

I knew Zaheer, with all his skill of wrist, would attempt to get me out lbw on the slower wickets of Sydney and Adelaide, having dragged me across my stumps before unleashing a wicked inswinger. I would be looking for any width. I knew in Perth that his natural late outswing into the wind would force him to try to take the outside edge. He knew I would be sweating on him getting too straight. Let the staring match begin, mano-ē-mano.

Strangely, this intimate contest and laying bare of character took place between two people who have never spoken a word - probably never will - knew nothing about each other barring relative cricket prowess and not once recognised that the other may have succeeded. It was for others to decide the winner. A lengthy timescale in such psychological battles also allows for the pronouncement of "bunnies". I now understand how the disintegration of Daryl Cullinan by Shane Warne took place. There was simply nowhere to hide.

It is also for this reason that two-Test series don't even whet the appetite - they do not differentiate Test cricket from a usual back-to-back home-and-away domestic fixture. No time to assert yourself, no time to redeem. If this series had been such, think of the questions that would have been left unanswered, the duels not completed. We would have missed David Warner's fireworks and Zaheer's fine retribution days later, the payback smirk plastered across his face: "Not today mate, today was my turn." We would have been denied watching Michael Clarke's insatiable appetite for runs only grow, a legend made from the series rather than just a solitary record-breaking innings. Virat Kohli might have found himself out of the Indian team for the next series without his Adelaide masterclass.

I knew Zaheer would attempt to get me out lbw on the slower wickets of Sydney and Adelaide, having dragged me across my stumps before unleashing a wicked in-swinger. I knew in Perth that his natural late out-swing into the wind would force him to try to take the outside edge. He knew I would be sweating on him getting too straight. Let the staring match begin

Paradoxically this ongoing challenge is broken down in micro-seconds of concentration, in which, oddly, I found it easier to perform with clarity. A little counter-intuitive considering how many off-field distractions there are, how intense the scrutiny is, and how much you imagine the high-pressure bubble of international cricket will thin your oxygen intake. Perhaps simply because it was my first series, I felt as though there was no other concern but the present - no more wondering if I needed more runs to be picked, or whether or not I deserved an opportunity to play. Here the opportunity was - the pinnacle - with nothing left to do but to compete. The simplicity of the situation struck me like a lightning bolt from the heavens. No peripheral thoughts, no second-guessing.

A few times when I was settled at the crease, and in a meditative-like batting trance, the crowd felt like white noise, and the bowler merely running in against a painted backdrop of figures - delivering with an action I had seen thousands of times on television with comforting familiarity. That is not to say there were not the moments of looking up, usually from the non-striker's end, and noticing - the crowd, whose murmurs were all of a suddenly audible; the cameras, and the realisation that people were watching and judging; the greats who I was now allowed to share the field with. I almost made myself have those moments, just to remind myself that it was real. Sometimes the realisation jolted you into involuntary dry-retching.

What else struck me, when it was all said and done, was that it was just one series. And that had completely exhausted me mentally and physically: the limited days off between Tests, which made switching off virtually impossible. It gave me an enormous appreciation for the rare talents whose careers span decades across multiple formats. Series piling on top of each other, rivalries stretched out over a lifetime. I am sure at times it feels to them like they could be starring in The Truman Show, never really allowed to emerge from the bubble.

After that last day in Adelaide, I experienced an adjustment period of my own, like a diver resurfacing, needing to slowly decompress to avoid the bends. There was also a longing for more, as though nothing else mattered or compared to the thrill of emotion that had been in constant supply. Thankfully, unlike some relationships, I get to control if this romance continues.

Ed Cowan is a top-order batsman with Tasmania and Australia and the author of In the Firing Line

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Posted by maxximoo on (March 3, 2012, 20:44 GMT)

Fantastic writing Ed! Loved your maiden sieries too. Hope to see (and read) a lot more from you. I raise me glass!

Posted by   on (March 3, 2012, 18:50 GMT)

Gud one!!! reminded of Mr.Peter Roebuck!!!! @espncricinfo::Now that cowan has played for australia why dont u change the author descrption as "Australian test cricketer" than a mere "top order batsman with tasmania"

Posted by ccrriicc on (March 3, 2012, 16:21 GMT)

- Your batting is compact and competent - so long as you look at it romantically you will succeed. Your calmness at the crease is reassuring. I wish that your romance continues, we want to see you bat more and then write about it. It is nice to know that an Australian cricketer has a heart that beats! - a beautiful write-up, please keep it going.

Posted by   on (March 3, 2012, 8:36 GMT)

What an article!!! Every Cricketer should read it. it is the remedy to going forward and pressing for more, mostly the associates

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 23:21 GMT)

More than his batting, I started liking his writing.

Especially "Strangely, this intimate contest and laying bare of character took place between two people who have never spoken a word - probably never will - knew nothing about each other barring relative cricket prowess and not once recognised that the other may have succeeded. It was for others to decide the winner"

Posted by popcorn on (March 2, 2012, 18:02 GMT)

"Inside a Cricketer's mind", a brilliant article this, and aptly, his book is named IN THE FIRING LINE.

Posted by 6pack on (March 2, 2012, 15:45 GMT)

Very nice read... it's always appreciated when cricketers reveal their other talents... not too many can express themselves with such clarity and panache.. Can only think of one other current cricketer. Looking forward to more erudite pieces perhaps from the West Indies in a few months.

Posted by unregisteredalien on (March 2, 2012, 14:03 GMT)

Hey IndianInnerEdge, sorry no, I'm not living in Oz anymore and got my copy on Kindle. Good luck! @AlanHarrison, you ever played Test cricket?

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 12:08 GMT)

This is a brilliant read... Esp for test cricket lovers

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 6:25 GMT)

Ed Cowan the player or Ed Cowan, the writer, I might just edge in favor of the writer. You are a brilliant writer. Hope to see you write many more in future. This time round it won't be any outsider but an insider writing about the game.

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 3:21 GMT)

Ed, here's hoping you get to play many more tests, if this is the result. Great writing mate - this piece is one of the very few things I've read that get us mere mortals right up close to what it would be like to reach the pinnacle.

Posted by Buggsy on (March 2, 2012, 2:38 GMT)

Brilliant piece Ed. Regardless of what happens in your Test career, I really hope you become a regular contributor to cricinfo.

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 2:20 GMT)

this was such an amazing article, you can't help but feel exhilarated for Ed and he makes you feel like your there with him. I wish him the best of luck in WI and hopes that this is only the beginning of the journey ahead!

Posted by   on (March 2, 2012, 1:24 GMT)

Ed Cowan may not become any more than a good Test cricketer, a considerable achievement in itself, but it is very clear that he may well become one of the all time great cricket writers.

This was magnificent.

Posted by Marcio on (March 2, 2012, 1:12 GMT)

BTW, don't listen to what Ian Chappel says about you being a fill in player. What would he know? Just one last piece of advice. Get rid of the toupee. Nobody has real hair like that. It isn't fooling anybody.


Posted by Marcio on (March 2, 2012, 1:06 GMT)

Here's hoping you get to feel the love many more times, Ed! One thing about being chosen to play at an 'older' age, is that you undoubtedly really appreciate it more. Your writing brings to greater reality what it must be like to actually play top international cricket, something many cricket fans dream of as a child but never get close to actualising. I loved your piece about facing Mitchel Johnson, too. Great metaphor - half panther, half ox - I think was the way you put it. You should definitely write a book - but after you finish play. You should focus on playing for a few years yet!

Posted by dcrowle on (March 2, 2012, 0:53 GMT)

From the other best write about cricket:


Posted by Sanj747 on (March 2, 2012, 0:34 GMT)

Great stuff Ed. A brilliant read.

Posted by MrKistic on (March 2, 2012, 0:01 GMT)

Careful Ed, such good writing can only jeopardise your spot in the team! Maybe lay off the red wine and get stuck into a few VBs and sing some Chisel to balance things out.

Posted by Matt. on (March 1, 2012, 23:58 GMT)

man i hope this guy makes it as our permanent test opener. absolute legend

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 23:05 GMT)

A nice read, well written article. Keep it up Cowan.

Posted by landl47 on (March 1, 2012, 22:58 GMT)

Very nice piece. I'm sure you'll always continue your love affair with cricket, Ed, although I hope that in England you'll be going through the heartache stage!

Posted by bookie7600 on (March 1, 2012, 22:24 GMT)

Top Class Writing ! Keep it up mate!

Posted by Nutcutlet on (March 1, 2012, 22:08 GMT)

Ed Cowan - welcome to the enviable pantheon of Australian cricketers who have equalled, or, perhaps exceeded their skill on the field with their literary flair off it: Tiger O' Reilly, Jack Fingleton, Ashley Mallett & now Ed Cowan. The ability of some cricketers to grace the page as they once graced the pitch is one of the characteristics of cricket that sets it apart from other sports. There is no team game anywhere that can hold a candle to cricket in this notable respect. To me it suggests that cricket attracts intelligent, articulate and literate people to it like no other - which, by extension, suggests to me that it is a game that engages the intellect, and as Ed has eloquently explained, that finds its most complete expression in a major test match series. Those of us who have never played fc cricket have at least the power of discrimination and, for me, cricket led me to the wider field of Eng literature. Where the two come together, then is my joy complete!

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (March 1, 2012, 21:55 GMT)

@ unregisteredalien- Thanks for that, will surely buy this-liked yur comment about giving more appreciation about those playing 1st class cricket....know any Melbourne book shops where i could try to get his book? In the same category I would place Ed Smith-interesting writer with interesting books like 'in it to win it' and 'what sports teaches u about life', Akash Chopra-whose articles are phenomenol on cricinfo especially the one about what goes in thru the minds of a close in fielder(short leg etc) ...generally love it when an ordinary lad next door makes it, mixes with the best and writes it as he sees it...encapsulates the spirit in which the game is to be played...To Ed Cowan - May the romance never fade, keep it up, wishing many more years of success on the field and with the pen !

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 21:20 GMT)

nice work by ghost writer of Ed cowan!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 18:53 GMT)

I wish I could play Test cricket...

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 18:14 GMT)

ahhhh.....made me remember my lost love with the game....Ed whether you may have played or not an inning to be remembered for los.... bt surely touched our hearts.....

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 17:51 GMT)

What a poetic article, Ed. "when I tried to describe to him the differences between watching Test cricket and first playing it, suggested it could be likened to that between reading a romance and experiencing it". So true. Keep on writing.

Posted by anilkp on (March 1, 2012, 15:34 GMT)

Beautiful writing this, Ed, please don't stop. Your description of the "meditative-trance" is noteworthy; several leading players like Sachin and Dravid have revealed their being in "the zone". You experienced just that. This is what happens when your mind, brain and heart are in-sync, no matter what you are doing. It happens to philosophers, music composers, writers, poets, scientists, athelets...may be to warriors as well. Being in that trance a few times while designing some key experiments, and once while meditating on the flow of the Ganges as a representation of eternity, I can fully relate to your experience. That experience is sublime, pure and absolute, far beyond any result that one's experiment or batting or composition might score!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 15:06 GMT)

Simply one of the best articles I have ever read on ESPNcricinfo... and I've read a lot!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 13:36 GMT)

What a beautiful article. All the very best of luck to you in the West Indies and I'm very much looking forward to watching you bat when Australia next tour England.

Posted by StoneRose on (March 1, 2012, 12:47 GMT)

Wonderful piece that best describes why Test cricket is No. #1, the duel between batsman and bowler, and the treadmill of a cricketers life. Keep it up.

Posted by AlanHarrison on (March 1, 2012, 12:46 GMT)

What a strange article. I wonder if Cowan has ever actually been in love?

Posted by Meety on (March 1, 2012, 11:38 GMT)

Was looking forward to this, particularly wanted to see what you'd write about Boxing Day. I would imagine the Trueman Show would be a very apt way of putting it! == == == Hope to see you crack a ton in the WIndies!

Posted by DaveS99 on (March 1, 2012, 11:31 GMT)

What a well written article. Doesn't this make you hope that he plays many more test matches for Australia? I am an England fan but I would rather read Ed's writing than listen to the dull interviews that Stuart Broad gives. I look out for Ed's articles and they come second only to Andy Zaltzman's work.

Posted by msnsrinivas on (March 1, 2012, 11:27 GMT)

Brilliant writing. Epitomises why each one of us watch and play cricket. I almost felt like a test cricketer reading it. My son is just 2 years old and he is now in Australia with me. I want him to be a cricketer - no let me rephrase that - I want him to be a test cricketer. On a personal note , being an Indian fan, I wanted Ed Cowan to get out as soon as he took guard. Now though I wish he got a hundred.

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 11:26 GMT)

Spot on Ed Cowan - the line "Every memory seemed unexplainably clearer - the moment heightening your sensory experience, stimulating you purely because your heart and head tell you that it is the pinnacle of the game, that there is simply no greater litmus test for you as a cricketer to take" should be branded on the walls of every cricket board in the world.

Posted by vrghosh on (March 1, 2012, 11:25 GMT)

Keep on writing... Ed... for saving the class of Peter Roebuck...!!!

Posted by Nerk on (March 1, 2012, 11:21 GMT)

Thanking for bringing us into your bubble Mr. Cowan. I found it interesting when you described your mental battle with Zaheer. Most enjoyable read. Should be read by every philistine who argues that test cricket is dying.

Posted by MrAshish on (March 1, 2012, 11:19 GMT)

Wow.. This guy is gifted.. Not sure where his natural gifts are more strong.. when i read him, he seems to be a naturally gifted writer.. and when i see the purity of the cover drive in the inset picture, he looks like a naturally gifted batsman.. !

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 10:27 GMT)

After Dravid's speech, this is another brilliant piece coming from the Host Country. Ed Cowan's patient batting definitely reflects in this article. This is what Test cricket is all about. People who criticize it will never know. After all, A cricketer only knows whats best for Cricket!.

Posted by Deepakskipper on (March 1, 2012, 10:13 GMT)

Super stuff Ed, poetry and cricket! Touche' Ed Touche'! Watching you bat at MCG, i was tickling inside wondering which way would Zaheer swing you out, but buoy o buoy! All credit and would so love to see you get a 100 at the carribs. Cheerz/Deepak Malik @ Delhi

Posted by drdickdixon on (March 1, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

Well played and well written, Ed. The other upside of you being out on the pitch rather than watching is that you didn't have to hear Bill Lawry whining about you needing to get a move on in your first innings with little appreciation of the fact you likely were a little tentative and cautious as it was your debut !

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 9:56 GMT)

Ed, you have written an extraordinary piece, writing which any writer anywhere aspires to. Immensely talented, you are, and I doff my hat to you!

Posted by rett on (March 1, 2012, 9:03 GMT)

A wonderful piece of writing. Far more insightful and entertaining than the majority of what passes for cricket "journalism".

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 9:00 GMT)

What a great article! Thank you Ed for letting those of us on the outside learn a bit about what it's like to be in that bubble.

Posted by jamesd1 on (March 1, 2012, 8:58 GMT)

Fabulous article, Ed. I so envy you in having lived the dream and I wish I could tell of the experience as well as you did in that article. Bravo and more, please!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 8:42 GMT)

Thank you, sir, for this brilliant insight. You're a damn fine writer. I wish you much success with the pen as well as with the bat. By the way you appeared to be very good fielding in close. I said to my son that either you were a natural or that knowing that the novices in the Australian team normally go under the lid, you had been preparing foir that eventuality for a while. Any insight into that?

Posted by unregisteredalien on (March 1, 2012, 8:34 GMT)

@IndianInnerEdge and others, you won't regret reading Ed's book, go get it. An easy but hugely engaging read, and overflowing with the kind of honest self-reflection apparent in this article. It also gave me a much greater appreciation for first class cricket and those playing it, which has done a lot for my interest in the game overall.

Posted by RohanBhalerao on (March 1, 2012, 8:28 GMT)

Seriously, WOW...!

Glad to read a firsthand account from a player himself without it being ghostwritten..!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 8:14 GMT)

If by any chance Tendulkar reads it he will surely say, that's why i still want to play.

Posted by jesbeck on (March 1, 2012, 8:12 GMT)

Amazing piece. Not only does he write beautifully but the content is absolutely fascinating. Congratulations Ed, although you are still just at the beginning of your international career , you can know that you will easily find a job as a writer afterwards. great find for cricinfo too.

Posted by zenboomerang on (March 1, 2012, 8:10 GMT)

@Ed... As usual, very insightful into the emotional side of living life as a cricketer... Though it does bring up the dark side of why cricketers live in a delusional world rather than reality... "hitting it well in the nets" & "gives so much to the team off the field" come instantly to mind :P ...

Posted by Suresh_Joseph on (March 1, 2012, 8:08 GMT)

Holy Cow-an! Dude, you are one heck of a writer... This is one of the best pieces I've read in these pages. You have an amazing career ahead of you once your playing years are over (no offence to your cricketing skills)... All the best!

Posted by Behind_the_bowlers_arm on (March 1, 2012, 7:54 GMT)

The perfect explanation of the need for the PROPER Test series of 4 or 5 matches. Hopefully , Ed, we will be reading your reports from the front line for a long time.

Posted by maverick_ind on (March 1, 2012, 7:51 GMT)

superb mate!!! great read! i hope the next series is more challenging though. controlling the romance might not be all in your hands. thanks.

Posted by moBlue on (March 1, 2012, 7:13 GMT)

you are a terrific writer, ed, a man of humility, and a decent opening bat! i wish you well in your dream arena! this article gave me special insight into the gavaskars, the richardses, the laras, the pontings and the tendulkars of world cricket as well! can you imagine being one of them? the decades-long truman show, indeed! what a travesty when i think about it despite the fact that they have all lived my dream!!!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 6:06 GMT)

This is very enjoyable stuff, Ed. Long may you keep writing.

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 5:36 GMT)

Boy can he write well. Fluent in both bat and pen. Cudos Amigos.

Posted by Aubm on (March 1, 2012, 5:28 GMT)

Well written as always, Ed. It's great to hear someone's thoughts regarding their debut series. I thought your series was a rather interesting one, you scored runs at MCG & WACA, where runscoring was tough and the middle order failed, but conversly you failed in SCG & Adelaide where the batting seemed much easier with the middle order cashing in. I'm guessing you would be extremely proud of the WACA innings in particular, but perhaps are kicking yourself you slapped Ashwin straight to cover on an Adelaide belter.

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 5:22 GMT)

Amazingly written...This summer you showed that you are as lucid with the bat as you are with words..

Posted by malomay on (March 1, 2012, 5:04 GMT)

With all due respect to Steve Waugh & later, Ricky Ponting......this is the bloke who ought to be writing a tour diary. Ed your writing is evocative, compelling reading & has a clarity that makes your articles compulary reading. Please, please do a West Indies Tour diary !

Posted by jonesy2 on (March 1, 2012, 5:03 GMT)

ed cowan should probably be the only person in the world allowed to write and talk about cricket

Posted by Harry_Kool on (March 1, 2012, 4:45 GMT)

Wow Ed, fascinating reading.

Posted by greenandwhite on (March 1, 2012, 4:38 GMT)

Great article, excellently written. Perfectly describes the emotions I feel while playing cricket, even though at a much lower level.

Posted by IndianInnerEdge on (March 1, 2012, 4:06 GMT)

Wow! what an article! Takes the layman straight into the minds and hearts of those who play, i imagine this being the fantasy of anyone irrespective of their country/age/sex who has picked up a bat or ball. Ed comes across as a honest, sincere competitor albeit with dignity and appears to be savouring the honour of wearing the baggy green, yet is humble and his demeanour seems to suggest "am i really doing this, am I living the dream?" And his description of the crowd as white noise and the bowler just running up in an action that i had seen 1000's of times-WOW!....Kudos to you mate, I will surely read your book, and hope to see several articles like this on cricinfo-U r living my dream!!!!

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 4:00 GMT)

Ed, my lasting memory of you is not the runs you scored or the catches you took (or even the one shelled at Adelaide), but the many minutes you took to sign autographs for the kids on day 5 at the SCG. I could only imagine the sense of happiness you must have felt, which is the same happiness I wish I was good enough to experience (but never will)...

Let's hope you get that first Test ton and go onto greater things. Australian cricket needs people like you...

Posted by Anand_Nandakumar on (March 1, 2012, 3:52 GMT)

Phenomenal article. Nothing more to say. It must have been a great feeling to actually be in the centre when as a fan, just the feeling of being a a part of the "white noise" itself is a great feeling for me.

Posted by   on (March 1, 2012, 3:48 GMT)

Wonderful and evocative insight. Ed already has done Phil Hughes out of a job, and at this rate will do a few of us cricket journos out of ours. Eventually!

Posted by katandthat3 on (March 1, 2012, 3:43 GMT)

Very insightful Ed, certainly touching on some of the more suffocating aspects of realising a dream to play cricket for Australia or any country for that matter and the emotions that go with it. Can certainly understand why some players don't want to leave the Australian Team Bubble and if they do why it takes a while to either get back in there or move on all together. Good luck for the Windies.

Posted by Rukky on (March 1, 2012, 3:31 GMT)

i really like the way you described it. you have learned a lot (cricket and poem).

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Ed CowanClose
Ed Cowan Ed Cowan is a top order batsman with Tasmania and Australia, having played 5 seasons with NSW, where he was raised. He attributes his lack of shots on the cricket field to fatherly threats of having to pay for any windows broken in the backyard. Hobbies tend to come and go (vegetable patches are the latest craze), but his love of Australian indie rock music has endured.

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