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Couch Talk

'I felt like I had a few credits in the bank, but apparently I'd run out'

If given a second chance, Australian opener Ed Cowan is certain he'll do better. He talks about his move to NSW, and working on his technique

Subash Jayaraman: It has been more than two years since we last spoke. I want to start with your move from Tasmania back to your home state - New South Wales. You had said at the time when you decided to leave that now you are "a family man who plays cricket rather than a cricketer with a family". Is that what has given you a change in perspective?
Ed Cowan: Not necessarily a change in perspective, but I think it is a time in my life when cricket had to drop down the priority list. I had seven great years in Tassie and I made a lot of great friends and loved the cricket. But that is one half of the story.
I dragged my wife down there and she put her career off in doing so. She still has her ambitions, career-wise. Sadly, my mum passed away last year. My dad lives in Sydney. My brother has moved back to Sydney. So outside the little bubble of your life of cricket, a lot simmers away. Those hands on the simmer were not firing enough, I guess. So, i just wanted to reignite that. Living in Sydney was a part of that. I am very happy to be back. I still love my cricket, still want to be a cricketer. But it is a question of shifting it down on the line of priority, understanding that family-first was the policy.
SJ: I am assuming that you are looking to start the second innings of your Test career as well.
EC: Yes, I still think about playing Test cricket. I still feel like, at the moment, I am in the top 6 batsmen in the country. But I am no spring chicken. I am 33 and I understand that they [Cricket Australia] feel they have to give the other guys a go, but I'm confident that if I score enough runs at the right times, I can come back into Test cricket.
"My good days were good mentally, where I thought I had things covered, but mechanically and technically I let myself down. I became a bit defensive and I couldn't put pressure on the bowler"
I learnt a lot from my first experience. At times, my best was certainly good enough. My good days were good enough, but I wasn't having enough good days. I have to change the average days into good days. I have had to change a few things technically, which has helped out, and I reaped rewards in domestic cricket in the last season. I am confident that if I did get another go, a different player and a different result would emerge.
SJ: Looking at what Chris Rogers has been able to achieve, and now Adam Voges as the vice-captain for the Bangladesh tour, are you disappointed that you weren't considered for Bangladesh?
EC: I was a little bit disappointed, to be honest, because I was in the top five run scorers last year. I played fewer games than the other top-order players and still got as many runs. That is what the selectors are for. They choose the teams. I am confident that whoever can put some runs on the board will get an opportunity at the top of the order.
Test cricket is a bloody harsh environment. It is hard work, and you have to be on top of your game to succeed. I think opportunities will continue to pop up and I want to be the guy that's ready to take them if the guys given the opportunity don't take it.
SJ: Have you received any reasons why they went for Cameron Bancroft over you or somebody else?
EC: No, I wouldn't say communication is high on the agenda of many selectors, and it's the same the world over. You can just take from it what you can. You realise that at the end of the day it is how many runs you get. The younger guys are getting a go, but it is going to be a tough initiation in Bangladesh, or against New Zealand, or whoever they are going to get the chance against. If they don't perform, then someone else will get a go. I want to be that someone else.
SJ: You wrote a piece a few months ago about rebuilding your technique. Tiger Woods, even in his pomp, would constantly mess around with his swing to make it perfect. Was it that sort of thing, or did you develop some bad habits and had to change the way you were batting?
EC: It certainly wasn't the former. I had developed a technique batting at Bellerive Oval, which was during the years I was playing for Tasmania - a fast, seaming wicket - and it worked in those conditions. But unfortunately, in Test cricket you more often than not get very good batting conditions and wickets turn at the back end of the game. My technique wasn't really suited to playing good spin bowling or putting pressure on good bowlers on flat wickets. I had to turn it completely on its head. I am now playing the way I used to for New South Wales. It has come a full circle, in a sense - playing a lot more shots, having the ability mechanically to do that.
In Test cricket I noticed that I was struggling to drive the ball by holding the bat up in the air. I went back to tapping it on the ground and getting a full swing. That has helped the fluency of my batting and I feel on top of my game. I think you can learn from your experiences. In Test cricket my good days were good mentally, where I thought I had things covered, but mechanically and technically I let myself down. I became a bit defensive and I couldn't put pressure on the bowler. I have now found a way of doing that. I feel that if I am given an opportunity, I would be ready to go and make a good fist of it.
SJ: Let me try to understand that technically. In seaming conditions, you want to play it late, you don't want to go hard at the ball, you want to wait for the second trajectory of the ball rather than off the hand. So you are saying the opposite for now - you are going at the ball on the front foot, playing in front of your pad. Is that what you need to be doing?
"If I knew then what I know now, then it is easy to say that I would have done it differently. But I genuinely feel that at that time I absolutely gave it all the energy I had, but it didn't work out"
EC: Not necessarily in front of your bat, but it is more of a question of being able to adjust the pace of your hand. If you are simply holding the bat in the air with a wide stance, you don't need to really move that much, you just transfer your weight and drop your bat at the line of the ball in one pace, which is great for defending. But tapping it back rhythmically or keeping the bat on the ground and picking it up as required, you pick the bat up to different heights, depending on the conditions, and you actually get a swing at the ball. You can quicken up your hands for a half-volley, or you can slow them down. If your hands are coming down from only one place, you can only bring them down at one pace. I found that that has been the biggest difference.
SJ: Ricky Ponting was a brilliant payer of short-pitched bowling, but he was always on the front foot. Have you compared your technique with how he played both at Test level and for Tasmania?
EC: There is a great photo of the top ten run scorers in Australian Test cricket history and top ten run scorers in Shield history - all but one had their bat in the air. Everyone at the point of release had their bat on the ground or moving in an upwards motion, in which Ponting is one. I was standing with my bat in the air. It is a pretty good indicator that not just Ricky Ponting but other guys who have been the greats of the game have been trying to do it one way and I have been trying to do it another.
It is not to say that it is not possible the other way (with Mike Hussey or Chris Rogers for example), but there is a lot to learn from the greats, and all those guys were tapping their bat rhythmically. As you say, Ponting - a beautiful puller of the ball, crisp driver - had a reach on the ball. He was a freak, obviously. Mechanically he was pretty perfect too. It is a good indicator or blueprint of what is possible.
SJ: Aside from technical aspects, what will be different about your batting now?
EC: I think the technical aspects will flow on to the ability to put pressure on the bowlers. A lot more positivity, being able to hit their good ball for runs rather than relying on my defence and grinding them down. I have got the understanding of how to score runs and that helps in knowing when to defend and when to attack, but also the ability to put pressure on the bowlers. I am finding myself scoring more freely than in the past. I think people would have an idea of me being very defensive-minded and a technically sound player, and now I would be more of a strokemaker - it wouldn't be nearly the same player who earlier played Test cricket. I am keen to prove that, but it is going to take some time, I guess.
SJ: Also, the fact that all your life you wanted to play Test cricket for your country and then you played in 18 Tests. That sort of pressure doesn't exist now, I guess?
EC: No, it doesn't, but you are still driven to perform. If you don't have that drive, find another passion, because cricket is a hard game and it is hard on the mind as it is on the body. So you need to be willing to be able to push yourself to get the most out of yourself, but at the same time, you need to relax. I'm a bit more relaxed now and seem to be enjoying my cricket more, trying out helping and coaching younger guys and focusing on my own game.
I feel really at ease with the past. If I never play again, I had my chance and I didn't take it. If I knew then what I know now, then it is easy to say that I would have done it differently. But I genuinely feel that at that time I absolutely gave it all the energy I had, but it didn't work out. I would have done a few things a bit differently. But that is how it panned out and I am comfortable with that.
"I am confident that if I did get another go, a different player and a different result would emerge"
SJ: The Nottingham Test of 2013 was your last Test match so far. Obviously, when that happened, you would not have thought that it was your last Test match for at least some years.
EC: That time, I was pretty angry. I felt like I probably had a few credits in the bank, but apparently I'd run out. We were coming off a very tough tour of India, where probably it was just me that had kept my head above water as a top-order batsman. So it felt like going to England, I'd have had more than one Test.
More importantly, I wasn't well in that Test match - I was incredibly sick. For a long time I felt aggrieved that it just ended like that. At the same time, if you are batting it doesn't matter if you are healthy or sick, fully fit or not, there is an assumption that you are going to perform. So rather than looking at that one Test, if you look at the preceding four months to a year and a half, if I had scored five or six Test hundreds, I wouldn't have put myself in that situation. I scored only one, and got a lot of thirties, fifties and sixties, and had not played match-winning knocks. If I had done that, then it wouldn't have mattered if I didn't get runs in that Test. I would have had another go. But, as I said, my credits had run out and you've got to live with that.
SJ: The Ashes is something that you look forward to - the pinnacle of your sport. To be there and having played in the one Test match and being there for the other four but not as a part of the team and then they win 5-0 at home - how did you handle that as a player?
EC: It is a little bit of an emotional rollercoaster - being on tour and then being dropped. If it's a short tour, if you are dropped in the first Test, you only have to put up for another five or six weeks. But if you are dropped after two weeks of a three-month tour, it can make for a long tour. But by the end of the tour I was rejuvenated to get back into the team. I guess it was a full cycle of anger and disappointment and by the end of it you are pretty positive about the future and ready to go again.
It was disappointing how it ended up. you make the bed you sleep in and i hadn't done my job as well I should have, and I had to pay the consequences. I am comfortable with that, and [look to] have another go at it to make amends.
SJ: Did you follow the Ashes? How would you rate their performance?
EC: Of course. When you are invested in the team for two years, you just don't fall out of love with the team. You wish them every luck. Having seen them win 5-0 at home was very emotional for everyone who was a part of the team.
It is still a bloody good Test team and it will be interesting how it will go in the next little bit. There is still a great bowling stock that can win Test matches. There is a great spinner. If the young guys can step up - that is the question mark, and I'm hoping that they can, for Australian cricket's sake.
SJ: From the outside it looked like Ryan Harris was the key difference between the two sides, both when you played in 2013 and at home. When he had to retire before the series began in 2015, I thought Australia were on the back foot. You had a good set of bowlers, but not anyone of the class of Harris, who can hold one end up as well as take wickets.
EC: Yes. You've also got to realise that Mitchell Johnson's record when Harris plays is far superior as well. It had an effect on the rest of the team, too. Harris carried the bowling attack and almost single-handedly won the Ashes series with Mitchell Johnson in Australia. Every time he didn't play, it was a different team. He carried the team in South Africa, along with Michael Clarke. Every time Australia won a key series, he was at the forefront. Any time a player like that retires, it is going to be hard to fill. But these young fast bowlers will do that. They just need time.
"If you are batting it doesn't matter if you are healthy or sick, fully fit or not, there is an assumption that you are going to perform"
SJ: When you announced that you were leaving Tasmania, you didn't have a contract with New South Wales. Were you confident of getting it? Now that you have the contract, what are you looking forward to this season?
EC: It was an interesting time. Because of the season I'd had [with Tasmania], I was semi-confident that they may offer me a contract. The New South Wales top order was a bit choppy and changey, and they were looking for a bit of experience, and that kind of fit nicely. I'm thrilled to be a part of it and my goal for the summer is to win games for New South Wales, and following on from there, to win a Sheffield Shield or the one-day tournament. There's a great feel in the squad - great captain and senior players. I'm hoping we can celebrate some great victories over the summer.