Couch Talk Episode 70 (play)
Guest: Ed Cowan
Host: Subash Jayaraman
Subash Jayaraman– Hello and Welcome to Couch Talk. Appearing for the second time on the show, is Australian Test opener Ed Cowan. He talks about his international career so far, the recent series vs South Africa and Sri Lanka, the upcoming Test series against India, the Shane Watson situation and of course, the “Warniefesto”.
Welcome to the show, Edward James McKenzie Cowan.
Ed Cowan– It is a good cricketing name.
SJ– Yes, it is a splendid name.
You’ve arrived in Chennai with the first group of Aussie players. Is it your first time in Chennai?
EC– No, it is not. I had a month in Chennai in a National Cricket Academy tour in 2007. Before that, I came with the New South Wales team that was based in Bangalore. I’ve been there a few times, now. And, I have traveled here as a backpacker too. I feel like this is a familiar territory, and i know what to expect.
SJ– You have been on the international arena for 14 months now. You scored your first hundred and also became the father of your first child. Which one of the two is the most satisfying?
EC– If I could say that my wife was not going to listen to the show… I think they are two very different occasions. I don’t think I have ever had more pure happiness than the birth of our little girl, Romy, and she continues to give us so much joy everyday.
The difference being, your first test hundred is something that you dreamed about for maybe 20 years and worked solidly towards that. So, very different, and both very rewarding. I don’t know where I’d go with that. It is an interesting question.
SJ– Take us through the thought process, things that were going inside your head as you were approaching your first hundred, that too against the no.1 team in the world- South Africa. Before that, your highest score was 74 in your debut series vs India. And, while playing in the innings, you took nears 35-40 balls to go from 85 to 100. In between, there was a lunch break too, when you were on 98.
EC– It was an interesting innings, because it was spread over two days. I guess, over two and a half hours on the crease on the third evening, where I felt everything went right. I couldn’t have batted any better than that. So, there was a little bit of doubt whether I could replicate that the next evening. But, I found my mental bubble very quickly the next morning and got going again. You mentioned 35 balls from 85 onwards… They (SA) bowled quite well going into the lunch interval. (Vernon) Philander came back and bowled really settled from the Vulture Street end. And, Dale (Steyn) had another short burst before lunch. No easy runs against those guys. I think, by that innings, they had worked out where to bowl and where I could hurt them and they had their plans in place. So, it was a little bit slow going.
Mentally, the only time I was nervous, was when I was on 98, the last over (before lunch), thinking if I should have a crack here or should I hold on. A little bit of sanity prevailed. I thought, if I am batting till tea, I would certainly have my hundred by then. I sort of took that team focus to the lunch break and took the hundred out of the equation. It was a satisfying day. I worked really hard leading up to that series, had some good plans in place. Everything seemed to have clicked, in that Test particularly.
SJ– Did you have any particular advice from your skipper who was at the other end?
EC– He just kept asking “How are you traveling? I replied “I’m doing OK.” And he said “We’ll see how you are when you get closer to it.”
SJ– Listener Abhishek, asks- In these 14 months have your methods of preparations – to play tests, against different opponents – changed?
EC– I’ve had to, with the natural intensity of Test cricket. I tend to try a little bit harder, and longer. You plan for a little bit longer. The pressure makes you narrow your focus and find a place where you can be mentally calm but up for it. That is the hardest thing- learning just when to conserve your mental energy for, and knowing that you are going to need a lot of it to bat in test cricket.
In first class cricket, you can be at the top of your game, but because the pressure isn’t there up to the same degree as in the Tests, a certain amount of energy you can expend in a day’s play of first class cricket only gets you through half a day of Test cricket.
SJ– You are considered as one of the most cerebral cricketers in Test cricket.
EC– Depends on who you ask.
SJ– (laughs) How mentally more punishing is it when you are critically analyzing every single thing that you do on the field, and off it?
EC– I don’t think particularly. In the last couple of years, I might have been an analytical type of person, but I have had the ability to delineate between on the field and off the field and leave what is happening on the cricket at cricket. By all means, I try to learn from all the experience if it hasn’t been a good day, but try to maintain some sanity in this regard. if it is a bad day, learn from it and move on. If it is a good day, then not to get too carried away with that. Just trying to rather than ride the waves up and down and be as consistent as I can, and provide consistency on the ground. At the moment it feels like I am playing well without providing the results that I would’ve deserved or could’ve achieved. There comes a time when that just has to wrap up again, you are going to get your volume of runs. Hopefully, that is 2013.
SJ– There are a couple of instances. Even in the innings that you got a century, you got run out backing up too far when you were on 136. Some might call it as simple mistakes- where you are holding the bat in your wrong hand and gloves in the other hand and you just couldn’t get back into the crease when (Michael) Clarke hit it straight back. Do you think ‘How can I commit such simple mistakes?’
EC– One thing it is to be overly critical from the sidelines when you bat for 7 hours, in 30 degrees heat in Brisbane, and as humid as it gets as anywhere in Australia. The last thing you are thinking about is getting out like that. It takes enough energy to blunt the best attack in the world, rather than concentrating on having your gloves in your hand. I don’t think that would have saved me in any instance. That is just one of those things people like talking about. I think having the bat in the wrong hand is something that I have done since I was young, and probably do need to change. I am slowly getting it there, and trying to address that. The run-out in Sydney was just a basic breakdown in communication between me and David (Warner). It is disappointing that in a summer of only 6 Tests, you get run out twice. For a batsman, that can really affect your career. It is hard enough facing the new ball in Australia. To be run out twice in the season was very disappointing.
SJ– With that run out you mentioned, with David Warner, the miscommunication on the run. But, you had a very crucial innings in the seconds innings – 33 off 88 balls, I think, which basically provided the bedrock for the chase of 140 odd. Does that redeem you in your own eyes, in your teammates’ eyes?
EC– I don’t know. Runs are always important. It was nice to contribute. It would’ve been a disaster to miss out twice. This was a fantastic wicket. Over the preceding tests, I worked out their attack and how they were going at me and started well in that innings. And, then the miscommunication. I thought he said “one”, and he thought I said “two”. The rest is history.
SJ– Let’s talk about Shane Watson, quickly.
EC– It is going to be very quickly.
SJ– There was a recent report that came on cricinfo. One of the stats in the report said that since you and David Warner came together on the Boxing Day Test against India, you have scored more runs as an opening pair than any other combination in the world. You average close to 45 runs as a partnership. Watson wants to play solely as a batsman and with his recent couple of ODI innings, he feels that he has earned the right to be an opener. Basically, he is gunning for your spot. Your take on the situation?
EC– Dangerous question to answer, I think. I guess a part of me is just very wary that I need to be concerned about what I have to do and not be too fussed as to how other people want to bat or where they want to bat. I think the stats speak for themselves. When we talk about opening partnerships, we feel that we are getting better at it and understand each other more. It is the job of the selectors to decide who the best XI are. What I will say is that One Day cricket is a very different to Test cricket. I wouldn’t be looking at ODI form as to how that translates into Test cricket
SJ– Jarrod Kimber says that Shane Watson is a naked God when it comes to limited over cricket. I was looking at his stats- since your debut, you are averaging a little more than Shane Watson, with a century and 5 fifties. Is that fair for someone to be gunning for your spot even though you have been out-performing him?
EC– That is for you to decide. It is not my style or my personality to comment on what other people think and say, particularly publicly. I am going to skip that, unfortunately.
SJ– OK, fair enough.
Since your debut, every series that Australia played, they won, except for the recent one against South Africa. Australia was on top in the first two Tests in Brisbane and Adelaide. Perth, South Africa won. Was there a feeling where you thought that you had let go of one?
EC– Without a doubt. It wasn’t just that we stared them in the eye. We felt that we bossed them in the cricket ground for 8 of the 14 days. We stared them down for another three, but they outplayed us for maybe three days in the series and came up with the win. Test cricket is about how you handle the pressure and how you can shift the pressure when it is running against you, they did that when it counted in Perth. Admittedly, we were undermanned and probably should’ve won in Adelaide even with 10 men, which would’ve been a phenomenal effort. We were really proud of how we acquitted ourselves in that series. I don’t think the Australian public give us enough credit for how well the team played. But, at the end of the day, we didn’t come away with the chocolates at the end of the series. Maybe it was a great lesson for the young team against what is the best team in the world. You have to stick with it, it doesn’t matter how well it has been in the series. If the series is on the line, you have to turn up for that day. It was a great lesson, and we took some huge positives from that series.
SJ– As you mentioned, the Aussie media, for a large part, and the fans as well, didn’t recognize your work and how far you were ahead of South Africa for the majority of the Test series. And now, Shane Warne has put out his “Warnifesto”, as Gideon (Haigh) calls it. Have you had an opportunity to read it? Your thoughts on it?
EC– I laughed, pretty heavily. It seems as though he’s lost touch with particularly how the Test team is doing and how the Australian team is placed. Whether it was a backlash to his poor performance in the Big Bash or anti-establishment with Cricket Australia having imposed a sanction and fine on him, I am not sure. It was full of contradictions in that “You have to play your best 12 or 13 men” and he went to produce a list of 27 across the 3 formats. I was speechless. As I said, my first reaction was to laugh.
He obviously has the best intentions for Australian cricket, but it is very easy to simply be on the sidelines and not the inner sanctum and suggest what should be working. Often, the old school works but I think the game has moved on. I don’t mean that rudely, I’ll just clear that up. In the sense, let the experts be experts. The strength & conditioning coaches are very smart people. So are the physios, the chairman of selectors, and the high performance managers. So it is important to let the people in charge do their jobs, ‘cause they are the ones that are accountable. At the moment, the team feels they are doing just fine.
SJ– Coming back to the series in India- of the batsman being selected, after Pup and Watson, you, Warner and Hughes are the second line of command with the experience between 13 and 20 tests. So, would you consider the squad to be little bit thin on experience, especially with Ponting and Hussey not being there?
EC– We haven’t played a lot of Test cricket, but that doesn’t meant that the talent, drive or desire to succeed isn’t there. it is a learning curve, but it is very good players doing their best and trying to produce the goods consistently. So, it is pretty clear that we haven’t played a lot of Test cricket, but a lot for guys have played a lot of first class cricket. And some of them have played IPL cricket in India. We are not fussed by that. It is time for us to shape our team and our own destiny, and guys are excited about that.
SJ– This is a question from our listener, Shrikant– with Ponting and Hussey gone, how has your role and responsibilities changed? Do you feel more responsible as an opener now knowing that these two legends of the game are not there to shore up any short comings up front?
EC– Perhaps. I do think my role within the team, not necessarily with the bat in my hand, will change as for everyone in the team. Everyone will have to step up and pitch in to fill in the void of those guys, because they were the spiritual leaders of the group. It is important for the guys to step into that leadership role. Michael has a strong group of players around him.
As for with the bat, yes, it is in that back of your mind to step up and make it happen. I don’t think it is a conscious thing to say that ‘then or there, I need to get more runs.’ You always try to get as many runs as you can. It is a good question. I know where he is coming from.
SJ– Considering the squad itself, Clarke is the best player of spin and you are going to face a lot of it in the four Tests in India? What do you think are Australia’s strengths? Besides Clarke, you have Warner, Watson, yourself. Still, not as proficient as Clarke against spin. So, how would you see Australia’s strengths and weaknesses going in to this series?
EC– it is a great opportunity to learn about playing good spin bowling in sub-continental conditions. We felt like we learned a lot and progressed a lot in the tour of West Indies on turning tracks last year. we got the results our way there. I think the Australians have one of the best batsman in the world in our captain. We have a battery of fast bowlers. We have a really talented spinner. So, I think we have the capability of taking 20 wickets. And, if the batsman have the capability to step up, as we know we can, then we can have a historic win here. England have supplied the blue-print of how it is done.
SJ– I was watching that series. In some ways, you and Alastair Cook are similar in terms of how patient you are. Have you had an opportunity to watch how he went about against India recently?
EC– Absolutely. First thing I do when he cored all those runs is to make sure that I have the footage on my computer. We are similar to a degree, but at the moment he does it better than I do. His batting style is how I try and go about. You can always learn for your peers and from someone who is on top of the game, like the English captain is.
SJ– You want to win the Test series. Any personal goals, that you have set for yourself?
EC– If you play all four tests out here, you have to score some big innings here. No one gets carried in Australian team. The goal is to play the whole series and contribute heavily with the bat. Do a job, soak a lot of balls, and bat with great intent and being positive. I’m sure the rewards will come. I know that if I do my job and score the runs, then the team will be in a good place to win the series.
SJ– Excellent. I wish you all the best, personally and for the team. I hope I get to watch a lot more competitive series than what we saw in Australia when India was there.
EC– Let’s hope not.
SJ– Come on, man!
Thanks a lot, Ed!
EC– Thanks, mate. Pleasure, as always!
Episode transcribed by: Bharathram Pattabiraman