Cricket / Benson and Hedges Cup Final: Cowdrey relishes relative success: A famous name sets his sights on a melodious day against Hampshire at Lord's today: Rob Steen reports on the renewed drive of the youngest member of a cricketing dynasty

Click to follow
The Independent Online
THE contents of Graham Cowdrey's kitbag reveal much about the personal baggage that has weighed him down. Nestling among the pads and gloves and jockstraps lurks a photograph of Van Morrison. That he should find the words of the Belfast singer such an apposite summation of his own experiences comes as no surprise.

When your father and elder brother have captained England, the general assumption is that your path will be free of the obstacles that the less privileged face. In Graham's case, however, for many years the psychological hurdles seemed insuperable.

'The first time I heard 'Why Must I Always Explain', I connected with the words,' he recalls. Part of the song says: 'Why, why must I always explain; over and over again. It's just a job you know.

'The one question people always ask me is, 'how much did your Dad (Colin) coach you?'. All they want to know is what it's like living in his shadow. In fact, it's been more a case of living in Chris's shadow.'

At the age of 28 Graham has at last come into his own this season, but for years there was a strong suspicion at Kent that he lacked the requisite commitment. 'People think I do this for a laugh but they're totally wrong. It is just a job, but I take it passionately. I'm desperate to fulfil my potential.'

Though blessed with more natural talent than Chris, 34, Graham soon discovered that the dynastic connection would prove more millstone than boon. If big brother was never certain whether the tea invitations he received during his Tonbridge schooldays emanated from boys or parents, Graham found it even harder to decide where to place his trust. Dismissed cheaply while playing for Young England against their Australian counterparts at Trent Bridge in 1984, he trudged back up the pavilion steps to be assailed by a contemptuous cry from an irate spectator: 'He's only here because he's a bloody Cowdrey.'

'When I heard all the nepotism talk following Alec Stewart's selection for the Oval Test last summer it rang a bell. I felt for him. It was the same crap I had to put up with. It was more the pressure of being the (then) captain's brother than being Colin's son, but it still set me back two years.

'Sure, being a Cowdrey got me a few games early on that I might not otherwise have had, and the senior players were certainly vocal in making me aware of that. It was all 'the Cowdreys run this club' sort of stuff, and, at 21, you aren't really in a position to fight your corner. But I reckon I lost out on games because Chris found it easier to tell me that I was out than he did other players. Sadly, his not being captain has done me a favour - I say sadly, because he is the best captain I've ever played under.'

By his own admission, the most prosperous season of Graham's career - indeed, 774 first-class runs at 70.36 constitute the most impressive credentials of any candidate currently eligible for England middle-order duty - can be traced to last summer's tale of Canterbury bloodletting. While Chris was released, Colin resigned as one of the Kent trustees, thus vacating his seat on the general committee. And then there was one.

'It is not a coincidence that I'm doing well now. I'm very close to Chris, much closer than people realise. There were a lot of people at Kent who let him down, and it was very difficult to perform well when I saw that. It upset me a great deal that a guy who gave so much could be treated like that. He was the ultimate team man. He gave everything to the team.

'Now I don't have those worries any more, so life is easier. I would prefer him to be here, though, because he still has so much to give. Chris is different to me. If I'd gone through what he did I'd never go back, but he doesn't feel bitter, just disappointed. I sit in the same place as him in the dressing room now, so I've kept something going.'

One person who has helped keep Graham going is his girlfriend, Maxine Juster, a member of the Michael Stoute stable with three Ascot victories under her belt in the Diamond Stakes, the premier event for female amateur jockeys.

Walter Swinburn was the inadvertent matchmaker. 'Walter was playing in a benefit game for Chris a couple of years ago and he invited me to the Stoute stable at Newmarket. These days you'll often find me standing on the gallops there at 6.30 in the morning. It's a great relaxation.'

Just as Graham's previous career-best had its roots in adversity, a rousing 145 at Chelmsford in 1988 coming after Kent had plunged to 122 for 6, some way short of warding off an innings defeat, so the new mark he established against Gloucestershire at Bristol last month sprang from similarly unpropitious circumstances. Kent had sunk to 23 for 3 when he embarked on a typically thrustful spree that yielded a break of 147 and enabled his side to pot a towering 507. Confirming the impression of a man at one with his muse, he gathered another century off Durham in his next Championship innings.

Yet success at Gateshead Fell that weekend was tinged with regret. While Graham's bat was singing, his hero was exercising his larynx at Glastonbury, thus preventing this most fervent disciple from supplementing his collection of 103 Van the Man concerts.

'A couple of years ago while the two of them were on tour together, I drove Georgie Fame around and got to know Van quite well. He is the ultimate professional. He doesn't put up with any rubbish, he wants everything done well. Just like me. I don't want to be a slogger any more, I want to look the part.'

Freed at last from the pressures that retarded his development, Graham Cowdrey is beginning to do just that.

(Photograph omitted)