We have all heard of batsmen who can bowl or bowlers who can bat. Allow me introduce you to a new phenomenon in world cricket: the batsman who cannot bat.
More popularly known as Ed Cowan, he is the rarest of breeds.
What did we expect? The Australian Test selectors pick a near-30-year-old journeyman to debut for Australia and expect that he’ll solve the team’s top order woes?
We have now tolerated Ed Cowan through two full Test series and seven Test matches, and his performances with the bat would barely have impressed his mother. Everybody else is still trying to figure out the difference between him and a nightwatchman.
Cowan’s fighting qualities are not in question. His ability against Test attacks is. When he strides to the crease, adopts his upright stance and wobbles the toe of his bat near two o’clock, people around Australia take up their preferred viewing position. Huddled behind the sofa.
Against bowling that can best be described as impotent, he has failed miserably. In four Tests versus India, Cowan was confronted with a raw Yadav, an aching Zaheer, a wayward Sharma, an ineffective Ashwin and flat pitches.
The result? 206 tooth-pulling runs at an average of 34.
Soon after, in three Tests against an even more pedestrian and inexperienced bowling line-up in the Caribbean, our soporific opener managed to peel off 152 runs at a wholly unspectacular average of 25.
When an opener places a high value on his wicket and digs in when wickets are falling around him, they earn respect. When an opener makes a start and gets to 20 or 30 off 100 balls, he is expected to go on with it more often than not.
Cowan has reached 20 seven times in his Test career and has never gone on with it. Not once.
Players who reach Test level often need to tweak their game to survive. Cowan, in contrast, has stuck with the same awkward technique that he has used against Shield fodder during the sunniest 18 months of his career.
This approach has simply not been up to Test standard. He clearly has neither the range of shots nor the resources to adapt his game to prosper at the higher level.
What is disturbing is that in getting to 20 or 30, Cowan often looks scratchy. His catalogue of near misses has to be seen to be believed, whether it is dropped catches or clumsy run-out attempts.
His slow reaction times and propensity to edge to the cordon will not have gone unnoticed.
Of greater concern however is his judgment outside off-stump. In just seven Test appearances, the Australian cricket public has already lost count of the number of times he has shouldered arms only to see the ball clatter into his pads. He has been dismissed LBW a staggering 50 percent of the time.
His refusal to play a shot to a Ravi Rampaul inswinger in the second over of last week’s Dominica Test is just the latest example. Is this the pedigree of a Test class opener?
It is little wonder the English have fallen in love with Cowan. With a Test average of below 30, England would be delighted to see him walking out on a Lord’s green top for the opening Test of the 2013 Ashes series. Who wouldn’t?
Cowan has won plaudits for writing books and articles on cricket. For his efforts, one wag on Twitter has labelled him our very own Pulitzer Prize winner.
It seems writing self-congratulatory material for Cricinfo may help get you into the Test team, but it is your cricket ability that keeps you there.
If you are still wavering on Cowan, here is what Michael Holding had to say: “I don’t think the Australian openers are that hot, I think they have a lot of work to do, a lot of learning to do.”
He went on to add, “I do not think these two [Cowan and Warner] will be good enough to do a good job in England for the Ashes.”
Warner has shown he can adapt and has time to improve further. Cowan has reached his potential and it is well below Test level. His time has come.
Congratulations Ed Cowan on a very mediocre Test career. Thanks for the memories.