To begin, let’s try to put this debate in some sort of perspective. After 17 Tests and 30 innings, Ed Cowan has 1,184 runs, at an average of 32.90, with six half centuries and one century. Taking 1989 as a starting date (because it was one hell of year), only one Australian batsman (with a minimum of ten Test matches played) has a worse average, Michael Bevan at 29.07. Ahead of him on that list lie other such average Aussie openers as Matthew Elliott (33.48) and Greg Blewett (34.02), whilst far, far, into the distance sit players such as Simon Katich (45.03), Phil Jacques (47.74) and Matthew Hayden (50.73). Simply stated, Ed Cowan is miles behind his contemporaries. Even his braindead opening partner, David Warner, has a vastly better average than that, 39.46.
Those figures are not in anyway surprising though. Cowan’s elevation to the Test team is purely the result of one outstanding season with Tasmania in the 2011/12 Sheffield Shield season, where he scored 948 runs at an average of 59.25. The season before that he could only muster 547 runs at 34.18 which, given his overall First-class average of 39.65, would appear to be a far more reasonable reflection of his abilities, and proves just how extraordinary that 2011/12 season was. Simply put, he gives the impression of being a thoroughly average cricketer who, by dint of fate, has been elevated to a level far beyond that his average abilities actually warrant. In fact we could take it even further and suggest that at most points since 1989, Cowan would have struggled to make the majority of Shield teams, let alone be in the mix for Test selection.
However, we like to try and be different here at 51allout, go against the grain, provide a point of difference in the otherwise over cluttered world of cricketing blogs. Which is why we’ve eschewed all attempts at grammar and punctuation in our articles. It’s a style thing you see. And so instead of turning this into another article bashing Ed Cowan, we would like to suggest that appearances can be deceiving and that there is a possibility that Ed could still make it as a Test cricketer. Hell, he’s done the hard bit already and gotten his foot in the door. All he really needs to do now is not fall out with Captain Clarke, put up with Shane Watson’s attempts to undermine him and steal his opening spot and make sure he hangs around at the crease long enough for Warner to do something stupid. Which can’t be that difficult.
Cowan is one of the few Australian batsmen who could actually thrive in English conditions. His county record isn’t too shabby (averaging in the low 40’s for the current season for instance), and what’s more he has the game to survive when the ball is hooping about all over the place. Sure, that’s a nice way of saying that his best shot is the leave outside off, but it’s a very stylish and well considered leave, and one that very few other Australian batsmen play nearly as well. Cowan needs to do one thing in the Ashes to warrant his selection: survive. Bugger scoring runs – he’s already shown he’s rubbish at it and attacking shots nearly always bring about his downfall. Just stick around at one end, let as much as possible go through to the keeper and he will be golden.
So far in his career, though, this is something he has patently failed to accomplish. The consistent narrative of Cowan’s Test career is to get to about 30 or so runs at a leisurely pace and then suddenly lose his head thinking it’s time for him to start taking the initiative and upping the run-rate, and subsequently lose his wicket. Taking the initiative is what the Australian team under Clarke is all about, but it doesn’t suit Cowan’s style at all. For someone who takes umbrage at the merest suggestion that he doesn’t belong, going against the grain shouldn’t be an issue. It’s just another test of character really. And nothing would endear Cowan to Australian fans more than a dogged Test century over four sessions or so, as everything goes pear shaped up the other end.
Is he capable of accomplishing that? Well, probably not, although that solitary Test century against South Africa suggests it’s not a completely forlorn hope. But it’s probably the only thing capable of saving his bacon at this stage. Among all of Cowan’s achievements, managing to be the only batsman really under threat in a batting order as dire as Australia’s is one hell of an accomplishment. We suspect most Aussies would prefer Sam Robson in his place, even though they only found out he existed about five minutes ago. To retain his place Cowan needs to put his head down, grind like hell, and let the rest of the Australian lineup make him look good. If he accomplishes that he could well establish himself in the team for the long haul, and end his career with over 50 Test caps. A result which, we imagine, would make Brad Hodge cry tears of blood in frustrated rage.