I have to admit, I’m a bit bemused by speculation about Ed Cowan’s place in the Australian test team.
Throughout his second series, the recently-completed West Indies tour, a bit of talk emerged that his spot could come under scrutiny.
Most of that seemed centred on the fact that he’s yet to score a century and his average is hovering around 30. Early failures in the next test series, against South Africa at the end of the year, could see him lose his place, according to some of the critics.
But all of that seems premature to me. He came into the Australian team based on strong Sheffield Shield (sorry to whoever’s sponsoring it this year, it’ll always be the Sheffield Shield to me) form and has formed a good partnership with David Warner.
The importance of the opening partnership goes unsaid, and for the first time in a long time Australia has a pair of actual openers at the top of the order, rather than players transplanted into the role.
Sure, the likes of Shane Watson, Simon Katich and Justin Langer applied themselves well, and quality batsmen are quality batsmen anywhere in the order, but I think that counts for something.
Cowan just looks like a man born to open the batting. His measured approach has already seen him weather some difficult conditions – like on debut on Boxing Day – and is the perfect foil for Warner’s more outgoing style.
And Cowan’s no slug himself when the time is right. While Warner rightfully got all of the headlines in Perth, Cowan was scoring well at the other end.
As it stands, he’s played 12 innings across seven tests at an average of 29.83, for three half-centuries. Sure, they’re not dazzling numbers, but three of those tests came in the West Indies where, collectively, the Australian batting line-up struggled. In fact, take out the evergreen Shivnarine Chanderpaul, and batsmen from both squads struggled.
The tail saved the day for Australia on several occasions and that’s reflected in the stats. Nathan Lyon and Ryan Harris topped the averages, while Matthew Wade scored the team’s sole century from the six innings. It was a lean tour for the whole top order.
As a result, Cowan’s numbers are now in the same territory as the out-of-favour Phil Hughes, Shaun Marsh and Usman Khawaja. But I don’t think the comparisons are fair. I’d like to see Hughes do well, and hopefully he can get his game back, but – as harsh as this is to say – I felt a tad nervous watching him bat in recent times.
Marsh was unfortunate with his back injury, and when he came back into the team he was underdone and out of form, while Khawaja probably didn’t do a lot wrong but suffered with moving in and out of the team around Marsh.
There was a suggestion that Cowan’s second-innings 55 in Roseau would keep the wolves at bay, but where’s the obvious replacement? I don’t rate the notion of moving Watson back to the top of the order, and Cowan’s probably been the form batsman of the last two Shield seasons.
Australian cricket is getting ready for a massive 2013/2014, with back-to-back Ashes contests. Will Ricky Ponting and Michael Hussey still be there and performing? It’s too early to tell. As we saw with the Indian legends over summer, when you fall off the cliff, it’s a big fall.
The team will evolve over the next year. There’s no doubt about that. But I like what I’ve seen from the Cowan and Warner combination so far and I think they’re the right pairing to lead the team against England. With Cowan 29 and Warner 25, it’s a combo that could go on to enjoy many successful summers.
If that ends up being the case, Cowan’s numbers will sort themselves out. But right now there’s more to the story.