Cowan driven by divine inspiration
Celebration ... Ed Cowan shortly after hitting a century against South Africa at the Gabba. Photo: Getty Images
ED COWAN showed in his first seven Tests he could bat for a long time, but his maiden century against South Africa has revealed the new dimension needed to cement his place in the team.
An innings already heavy with meaning, for Cowan and his team, was made more poignant by the timing. His maiden hundred was scored a year to the day after the death of his mentor and friend, former Fairfax cricket writer Peter Roebuck, who coached Cowan during his formative years and taught him at Cranbrook.
''We'd like to think maybe he was looking down and guiding Ed towards his first Test ton,'' Cowan's wife, Virginia Lette, told Sydney radio station 2GB.
Proud … Cowan's wife Virginia with daughter Romy. Photo: Reuters
Cowan told the ABC: ''I had the conversation with my wife earlier this morning. I shed a tear on a morning walk because I well and truly knew that it was a year to the day [since Peter died].
''Not surprisingly, it was on the day last year that I scored some runs as well having found out the news. That's why when I scored the 100, I looked to the heavens. He was a coach and a mentor whose advice I valued very dearly.''
Cowan drew on deep reserves of discipline and concentration during his first season as a Test batsman. He showed he could stick around, but by summer's end had middling scores of 68 and 74 to show for his endeavour.
"When I'm playing my best I'm an attacking batsman with a good defence rather than someone who has the mindset of choosing to leave as a first instinct" ... Ed Cowan. Photo: Getty Images
Until a half-century in tough conditions at Dominica in the West Indies in April, which was seen at home only by insomniacs, there was little evidence of a higher gear.
Cowan came into his second summer with a Test average of 29, and with a desire to change the perception that against the best attacks he knew only one pace. In June, he was left off Cricket Australia's contract list, confirmation that the selectors, too, wanted to see more.
Cowan dashed those doubts, and answered his critics, with a free-flowing 136 against South Africa's fancied bowlers at the Gabba.
The 30-year-old also restored calm to the opening position that has been dogged by angst and upheaval since the unceremonious axing of Simon Katich 18 months ago.
Fourteen Tests and three opening combinations after Katich was controversially ousted by the previous selection panel, Australia have another stout-hearted, left-handed opening batsman who knows where his off stump is.
It turns out Cowan can do more than blunt the new ball while his more adventurous opening partner David Warner puts the bowlers to the sword. Cowan brought up his 100 in 185 balls, a respectable clip at Test level.
''Probably a lot of you weren't watching, but in the last Test in the West Indies, before that I had a heart to heart with Justin Langer, the batting coach. [He said] 'Just go out and play your shots,''' Cowan said.
''I felt under pressure in that innings, but I went out and played on a tricky wicket with freedom, and thought at the time, that's a pretty good blueprint.
''When I'm playing my best, I'm an attacking batsman with a good defence rather than the other way around. So I was happy to hit the ball, and they had to have a look at me as well so they probably bowled to a few shots that were my strength, and away we went.''
The pitch was slow, and the fancied South Africans bowled too short to him, but Cowan got in behind the short balls and played hooks and pulls with authority.
''I've said all week that I feel like my game is suited to good fast bowling and fast wickets so it's just felt like a natural progression,'' he said. ''I'm just thrilled to prove a few people wrong and go another step to cementing my spot at the top of the order.''
Cowan's face lit up in a warm smile as he pulled Vernon Philander for his 14th boundary to raise the milestone. He raised both arms and looked towards the heavens. The applause from the small Gabba crowd was enough to wake his baby daughter, Romy, cradled in the arms of his wife.
Lette said her husband had been ''a bit more quiet, a bit more reserved'' around the house as the South Africa series approached.
Cowan betrayed no nerves, despite the personal pressure and precarious situation of the team, which he and Michael Clarke saved from the wreckage of 3-40 on Sunday evening. He stayed in control despite being stuck on 98 at lunch, and no South African bowler conquered him; he was freakishly run out at the non-striker's end when a Clarke drive was touched onto the stumps.
Cowan is now all but assured of the three Tests needed to be upgraded to the CA contract list, but that was never what motivated him. ''I want to be playing cricket for a long time for Australia, and there's only one way to do that,'' he said. ''Scoring runs.''