March 30, 1912, Auckland
June 03, 1994, Lower Hutt, Wellington, (aged 82y 65d)
Right hand bat
Right arm fast medium
The passage in Wisden most frequently quoted in New Zealand is a sentence by editor Wilfrid Brookes from the 1938 edition: 'Had he been an Australian, he might have been termed a wonder of the age.' This refers to Jack Cowie's efforts on the 1937 tour of England, when he took 114 wickets at 19.95. It was cited again in the papers on June 6, with the announcement of his death in Hutt Hospital three days before, aged 82, as NZ tried to get England out with their weakest-ever Test pace attack.
In an 18-year first-class career between 1932 and 1950 Cowie played 86 matches - 44 of them on his two England tours, 1937 and 1949. Between those years, Cowie played in all NZ's Tests - nine of them. His cricket nickname was 'Bull' and he was a strong-willed character.
He was fast-medium off 15 paces in his prime, slower at 37 on his second trip. Hadlee is the only NZ pace bowler who may have been superior, and he had vastly greater opportunities. 'Terrific pace off the pitch, a forked-lightning offbreak and lift and swing away from the right-hand batsman; recalled Len Hutton. The admiration society was mutual. Cowie said Hutton was the best batsman he bowled to, but got him for 0 and 1 at Lord's when both made their Test debuts in '37. He couldn't confront the best often, but dismissed them when he did. In his sole Test against Australia, at Wellington in 1946, only eight Aussie wickets fell and he took six (Meuleman, Barnes, Miller, Hassett, McCool and Tallon) for 40 from 21 overs. The only other time New Zealand played against Australian opposition during his career was in three State matches, of which Cowie played in two, on the way home from England in Nov 1937. Against NSW, he had Stan McCabe for 12 and 0, both times bowled, and Chipperfield skittled for 1 the only time they met.
The South Australia match saw Don Bradman, who did not tour in 1946, arrive late on the first day for his only innings against New Zealand. He was 11 overnight. On the second morning, as many queued, Cowie's first ball to Bradman had him caught behind. The crowds found another way to spend Saturday in an era when the visitors' tour income depended on their share of the gate. NZCC treasurer Sammy Luttrell took Cowie and keeper Eric Tindill aside when they came home to tell them they owed NZCC £1000!
The first of three Test 'sixfers' was 6 for 67 in 1937 at Manchester. This was part of NZ's first Test 'tenfer' - 10 for 140 - including Hammond for 0. It was followed by his triumph against Australia and six (Washbrook, Yardley, Compton, Hammond, Ikin and Peter Smith) of the seven to fall for 83 on his next Test appearance, at Christchurch in March 1947. There was also another good performance in a more modest international. Cowie was the only bowler to miss out in Ireland's first innings of 79 at Dublin on Sept 11, 1937. That was enough to gain a lead - Merv Wallace had three sixes in his top score of 20 in an innings of 64. Second time around, Cowie had six wickets, all for ducks, for 3 in eight overs (five maidens). The innings reached 30. Acting skipper Tom Lowry hit 30 as NZ won by eight wickets in the only first-class match for 12 years to be completed in one day.
Cowie grew up in the Auckland harbourside suburb of Devonport. The local hero was Cec Dacre, who after the 1927 NZ tour of England was to join Gloucestershire, but earlier was Devonport Domain groundsman. The boy Cowie saw himself as privileged to be allowed to help with the rolling.
Cowie did slightly better in Tests (45 wickets at 21.53) than in his overall first- class career (359 at 22.28). He kept very fit by road-running, long before the jogging craze, and by abstaining from booze and baccy. His 1949 activity, when his haul was reduced to 59 at 27.18, was limited by a series of muscle strains.
A regular tailender, he reached 54 for Auckland against Otago in 1937-38. That was his share of a 10th-wicket partnership of 119, a provincial record that still stands, with Bill Carson (106 not out). The 57 with Frank Mooney at Leeds in 1949 is NZ's best last stand against England. Promoted to No. 9, he had 45 in 1947 at Christchurch, just before removing Washbrook in his first over.
Cowie's move to Wellington after the 1949 tour signalled the close of his playing career. Like Tindill (who was also an All Black halfback and Test rugby ref), he became a Test umpire. They stood together in the first New Zealand-England Test at Christchurch in Feb-March 1959. He had three official Tests in 1956 and 1959, and two more in the unofficial series against Ian Craig's Australian 2nd XI in MarchApril 1957.
His winter sport was soccer, and after his playing days Cowie had 14 years on the NZFA council. He was chairman 1967-1974.
An insurance man for 47 years, John Cowie OBE - though often referred to as 'J. A.', he had no middle name - is sur vived by his widow Nyrie, two daughters, Janet and Sue, and six grandchildren.
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