In 7.3 seconds Ed Cowan went from intelligent cricketer and author to a cricketing dunce.
Cowan’s a man who can read, and understand books. He likes the West Wing. Quotes from Charles Darwin. And he pressed keys on a laptop to make an actual book appear.
That brain has served him well in cricket.
Cowan also works really hard. There are several more talented batsmen playing in Shield cricket who would be where Cowan is if they had his work ethic and desire.
This combination has been used to plan, implement and refine a career that really should have been over in his mid 20s. Anyone who bought his book will know the effort he puts into his cricket, whether in training and preparing, and just how much time he spends analysing himself. And over analysing. He wasn’t suddenly picked because of a mass of talent, but rather working hard, and thinking more critically about himself as a cricketer than most people can, or would feel comfortable doing.
Sometimes, by his own admission, his brain gets the best of him.
There are times during his more onerous innings when he almost stops batting. You can see it in his face, or, if you are at the ground, sense it via the scoreboard. He’ll bat himself into some depressing cave of doubt, and suddenly the smile happy Ed is replaced by a Cowan face of intense worry and too many thoughts. Instead of playing each ball as it comes, you can almost see him trying to second-guess what the bowler is thinking. He becomes Mr Theory, and his progress, and the team’s, slows down as he bats against himself.
You get the feeling on occasion that he actually has to tell himself to stop thinking too much. It’s why Brett Geeves once referred to him as the Woody Allen of cricket. Which is unfair, and untrue, he’s much more Jim Jarmusch.
At the moment he is using his brain to overcome his problem of slightly over balancing when playing the straightening ball. It’s a common flaw in even the best left-handers. He’s spent hours with coaches and analysts to make sure he isn’t an LBW candidate for a canny seamer.
Thinking and working, what has made an NSWales reject an Australian opener. It’s also those things that have made Cowan a hit with many fans and writers in spite of being a turgid plodder in these slap happy T20 times.
To win over any Australian fans the way Cowan plays is a big achievement. Australians don’t do defensive minded batsmen. I’ve never been at an Australian cricket game where someone didn’t shout “get on with it” at least once an hour with at least one expletive added in. And I’ve often felt a brain used outside of cricket is often a superfluous requirement in Australian cricket.
The reason Cowan is in the side is because he’s the opening batsman Australia need right now. The batting line up, even when it had six proper batsmen and legends in certain positions, has been misfiring since 2009. Batsmen who are prone to waft outside off stump or plant their foot in a macho style, were simply not getting the job done when it was needed.
In this current squad Phil Hughes is, according to the selectors, not mentally strong enough to take on the South Africans. Despite a decent current average, Dave Warner’s technique and temperament style will mean many cheap outs. Wade is an unpolished street fighter. Michael Clarke’s magic super voodoo form may not last forever. Mike Hussey is no more. It’s possible that Shane Watson’s Test career is over. And Usman Khawaja may not be a top order player, or even an Australian player.
So Cowan is needed.
But Australia don’t need a batsmen who is stuck averaging in the mid 30s. Not even ones who can bat on grassy knolls and survive cracked up 5th day wickets.
His sins, in what should have been two simple runs, include:
A yawn of a back up.
Running the first one at skipping pace.
A vision impaired turn treacle turn.
Hesitating like Satchel Paige.
Not screaming “no” like he saw a wolfman.
That is a lot of mistakes to cram into less than ten seconds. And every easy cover drive, or ball clipped off the pads from Hughes and Warner would make those seconds on rotation in Cowan’s head.
If Ed Cowan goes on to be the Test player he and the Australian team believe he can be, this is just a funny chapter in his unghosted autobiography “Op Ed – tales of a hirsute leaver”. If not. It’ll be a far darker introspective chapter full of self-loathing.
The selectors believe Ed Cowan is their man, and Cowan believes it too, but he is a man who has to be at the top of his game at all times just to survive at Test level. He can’t afford too many more 7.3 seconds of lazy stupidity.
Cowan knows that. And his batting diary probably says something similar.