West Indies v Australia, 2nd Test, Port-of-Spain, 4th day April 18, 2012

Cowan struggling to go global

The opener's series in the Caribbean has been characterised by a number of starts but no major score

Ed Cowan is learning the hard lesson that international cricket requires an international method. Over six Tests, Cowan is yet to play in anything other than a winning Australian team, and has contributed a series of middling scores that have neither defined him as a "walking wicket", nor gone on to the kinds of totals that won him a place in the Test XI in the first place. To his frustration, he has found it difficult to go on from his carefully compiled starts, and is also wrestling with the fact that two of his most productive shots down under - the pull and the cut - are seldom able to be used with confidence on the low, slow pitches of the Caribbean.

On the fourth day of the Trinidad Test Cowan had a dose of good fortune, dropped at slip early from the bowling of Fidel Edwards. He looked safe against the spin of Shane Shillingford, employing the sweep to decent effect. But he was again undone by the speed and line of Kemar Roach, burning his second referral of the match before again departing lbw, and left with some chastening thoughts about how he must improve. The question of whether the national selectors give him the chance to improve is an open one, with eight months separating this series from the home matches against South Africa.

"It's very different to batting back home," Cowan said of the Caribbean. "It's been a great experience I guess to play in such foreign conditions. You build your game up to play a certain way back home and I've played my entire career playing in Australian conditions so I've had to make a few minor adjustments to try to grind out runs however I best see fit over here.

"I feel like certain aspects of my game already have improved, for example, playing against off-spin. I feel like I've found a way that can now work here and in the sub-continent and you don't have to do that back home because there aren't that many wickets that turn. At the same time, my go-to shots, the cut shot and the pull shot, aren't really in the game either so I've got to find a way to score runs elsewhere."

As for the starts, Cowan said he was doubly frustrated by the fact that he has continually played himself in only to be out before breaking into more meaningful scoring territory. He said he had felt clear-headed at the crease and was not filled with dread the moment he reached 20 - though his sequence of scores across this series and at times against India would suggest otherwise.

"It's frustrating, to state the obvious. It's something I've prided myself on in first class cricket - If I get a start, I tend to go on with it; if I get to 30, I get a hundred, so it's been very frustrating," Cowan said. "On the flip side, it feels that it's nice to know you can consistently get in. And if your worse days are 20s and 30s and you start turning them into really good days, you start turning into a really good player.

"So I don't feel like I'm going out there as a walking wicket and that I'm going to get knocked over. So that's good. I feel like I'm not only good enough to be playing at this level but contributing. And dominating on my good days, it hasn't quite worked out yet. You need slices of luck and coming up today against a guy who was bowling pretty well. So that's the game of cricket.

"It's frustrating to get through what's the hardest time of batting and then to get out when the ball is getting softer. I think in these conditions to ground out 40 or 50 is a bloody good day. To grind out 20 doesn't look but it still feels like you've given some contribution to the team, not just taken the shine off the ball for the other blokes. I'm probably more frustrated about getting in and then getting out that anything else. I feel like my game is in good order. There's a big difference between being out of runs and out of form and I feel a little bit out of runs."

Cowan's use of two referrals for the match has not been at any great cost to Australia so far, but it has raised the question of who is best placed to judge them on the batting side. The batsman himself must fight conflicting notions of reason and self-preservation, while the non-striker, however helpful he wants to be, is not in line with the wickets so can be wide of the mark in his estimation of lbw decisions in particular. Cowan suggested the narrow margins for error provided by the DRS had encouraged batsmen to second-guess decisions they had previously considered to be out on instinct.

"It felt pretty close, as it turned out," Cowan said of the second innings. "We've seen on the referrals sometimes it felt like it would have been slipping down leg. Even seeing the replay, until that ball straightened from the angle he was on, it probably was missing leg. It's a great skill to be able to bowl from wide on the crease, around the wicket. It just felt like it was missing leg. I can't really see the last half a foot of what the ball does but it certainly hit the seam and straightened down the line but if it didn't it would have been missing leg.

"Everyone's played enough cricket to know if you're hit on the pad you have that feeling deep inside 'gee that's pretty close'. Even from my own experience in the first innings it felt pretty adjacent but it's half a ball width and the umpire to say not out initially and it's not out. I think we're finding with the review system that the margin for error what we consider to be out - even Michael Clarke to Shillingford in the first innings, he just said it felt out. That feeling of 'I'm out', I think the DRS is showing that not always is it out. With that in mind if you think you're out, review it."

Daniel Brettig is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo. He tweets here