One for the real openers, this ton simply a knock to behold
Against a fine attack on an admittedly flat deck, his coming of age was not drudgery, it was a joy to behold. Photo: AFP
This was a red letter day for opening batsmen, both accomplished and bog ordinary. Those for whom the only tempting drive is to the nets, and runs are a desirable, but not necessarily obligatory, byproduct of stoic occupation.
A day for those who sneered at the flashy strokeplay of the Chappells and took their lumps like Stumpy Laird. Who could barely disguise their grudging admiration for Boycott and Tavare, even if this attracted schoolyard bullies as surely as a Bay City Rollers T-shirt. Who despaired when sloggers, dashers and show ponies such as Virender Sehwag thrived in a place that was the birthright of the stubborn, the obdurate and the bloody-minded.
Those who, like Ed Cowan, respect old-fashioned values like ''taking the shine off'', ''tiring the bowlers'', ''rotating the strike'' and playing in a manner likely to make you the most irritating bloke on the field. Not easy when Billy Bowden is umpiring.
Fightback ... Australia's Ed Cowan and Michael Clarke batted Australia back into the match. Photo: Getty Images
This is not to underestimate Cowan's talent, or the excellent strokeplay that punctuated his maiden century. Shots that, on Sunday evening, saw his run-rate rise like Mark Cosgrove's pulse rate during a quick single. It is to celebrate the virtues that put Cowan into the position to make his ton. He is, first and foremost, a real opener.
Besides knowing which end of a Gray-Nicolls to grip, Cowan is an irritatingly good writer. Indeed, before this knock, harsh judges might have suggested reading about his innings could be more entertaining than watching them. But against a fine attack on an admittedly flat deck, his coming of age was not drudgery, it was a joy to behold.
The only shame was that Bill Lawry was not in the commentary box - a sentence you don't find yourself writing often. Despite years of self-deprecating banter, the ''corpse with pads on'' was a far better strokeplayer than his modern-day reputation suggests. Between mucking out the pigeon coops, he will have appreciated the blooming of another supposed blocker.
Cowan had a touch of fortune. He was caught from a no-ball and the boundary that took him from 94 to 98 came off his helmet. But when you take the best of the bowling in the worst of the conditions, having spent part of eight hours ducking and dodging at short leg, don't you deserve a nod and a wink from Lady Luck?
Surprisingly, Cowan's was the more impressive contribution to a magnificent partnership forged at either end of Parramatta Road. His father, Richard, celebrated with a quote from Kipling. It is not blatant stereotyping to suggest Michael Clarke's inspiration was more likely to have been the lyrics of Jimmy Barnes. Sport creates more odd couplings than a party at Hugh Hefner's farm.
Glenn McGrath was the best of the bowlers. Who better than the human metronome to critique the performances of two sets of struggling trundlers? The leaked Australian dossier had made the science of bowling seem more complex than quantum physics. McGrath revealed that, in his day, bowling meetings lasted about a minute - the time it took to remind each other to hit the top of off stump. And you thought Pigeon, Dizzy, Bing and Warnie were spending hours dissecting Jung's theory of synchronicity.
As Cowan and Clarke batted the game into an early grave, the meandering play made way for other weighty matters such as the poor attendance. ''It's a thin crowd,'' remarked the ABC's South African commentator Neil Manthorp, before remembering he was in the city of the 24-ounce sirloin. ''Well, there aren't many here.''
Pity for the absentees. They missed a glorious moment for all real openers.