"I am confident going out there I am intimate with the ground" ... Ed Cowan on his home turf. Photo: Getty Images
ED COWAN has many reasons to be thankful this week. He will play his first Test at home, which in turn will mark an unbroken year for him in the Test team and go some way to discrediting the theory he was merely filling the breach until the return of Phillip Hughes.
On the eve of the international season Cowan was, despite an impressive Australia A tour to England in the winter, fighting off the perception the rehabilitated Hughes was set to reclaim his opening berth. His declaration in October that ''there's no reason to say Phil Hughes and Ed Cowan can't play in the same Test team'' was not a popular view but it has proved a learned one, following Hughes' elevation for the retired Ricky Ponting.
Left-hander Cowan has, by virtue of his county cricket and Australia A stints in England and Tasmania's Sheffield Shield and Ryobi Cup matches away to South Australia earlier this season, probably seen more of the newly refined Hughes, now a Redback, than any of his batsman teammates - and has been impressed by it.
''A great person to come into the team, a guy who has re-earned his spot through weight of runs - and that is always great to see. Guys always love seeing other guys score runs and earn their spot, so we will be behind 'Hughesy','' Cowan said on Monday in Hobart. ''His game looks in good order. It is not really for me to comment [on what has changed] because he has worked really hard on his game, on certain areas.
''He's obviously improved and now it is time to go and play cricket. My only concern is every time he gets out someone will go and mention it, but that's what he will have to deal with. He is a great player, he is in great form and we are expecting him to score runs.'' When Hughes last came into the Test team, midway through the 2010-11 Ashes when then-opener Simon Katich was injured, he did so on rank and reputation and not due to his domestic form, which had been poor. It was after Australia's last appearance in Hobart, against New Zealand, that the axe finally fell after a torturous run of form against the Black Caps.
This time, however, the call-up has come with the 24-year-old in fine fettle in four-day and one-day matches, and seemingly Twenty20, based on his match-winning 74 on Sunday night for Adelaide away to Perth in the Big Bash League.
''The confidence is quite high at the moment,'' Hughes said after the match. ''Having that [previous Test] experience behind me, I'm a bit more relaxed about going into camp because I've been in that environment before.'' The man who replaced Hughes after last summer's Hobart Test, Cowan, said his first full year at the top of Australia's batting order had ''probably been harder work than I expected''.
''I guess it's easy to sit back on the couch and think, 'I can do a better job than this bloke or I can do a better job than that bloke' but the day-in day-out pressure and dealing with that, let alone the cricket side of things, has been a huge learning experience,'' he said.
Cowan's batting average after 10 Tests, 34.47, is still below his - and others' - expectations. But after starting the just-completed series against South Africa with an average below 30, the Tasmanian suggest he was content with his ''baby steps to bigger things'' against the Proteas, especially considering the bowlers it was achieved against.
''I said before the South African series, if you can score against those guys you can score runs against anyone … but it's important you have got to get your head down and make sure you get the runs,'' he said.
''I feel as though the last series is probably a step up … it wasn't a massive series like Michael Clarke's but compared to India last year, which was the baseline, moving forward that is now the baseline. Two innings of some significance out of five, I reckon that's a pretty good strike rate.'' Cowan's first-class record at Bellerive Oval, 1845 runs at an average of 48.55, is easily the best of any venue he has played more than once at in Australia, another reason for him to optimistic about the series-opener against Sri Lanka.
''I think it will be a pretty good batting wicket,'' he said. ''Over the past couple of years, the Shield wickets have been good to bat on if you are willing to bat time, and that suits my game. It feels like a wicket I have conquered over the last couple of years in bowler-friendly conditions, so, I am confident going out there I am intimate with the ground and the batting conditions.''