Australia have arrived in Nottingham with their batting order for the first Test still to be finalised. It is an unfamiliar position for a side that was once the best in the world and whose top order was pretty much set in stone.
The one certainty now is that there will be a new pair of opening batsmen. Ed Cowan, opener for the previous 17 Test matches, has been relegated with Darren Lehmann, the new coach, stipulating that Shane Watson and Chris Rogers will be at the top of the order. Cowan is pencilled in at the blue riband position of No 3, although it is not yet thought to be a done deal.
Cowan is a fascinating subject as a Test batsman, hardly in the modern mould. He finished his university education in England, worked as an investment banker and is a writer and thinker on the game who has already published a tour diary.
So far he has made 987 at an average of 32.90 and built a reputation for failing to capitalise on solid starts. Put bluntly, Cowan would have been nowhere near the Australia side that dominated world cricket during the 1990s and early 2000s.
But that should not be mistaken for a lack of ambition in the Baggy Green. He is an assiduous left-handed operator who left New South Wales for Tasmania where he flourished, hitting four hundreds in as many matches at the start of the 2011-12 season, forcing the hand of the selectors.
Cowan’s opening partner in those 17 matches was David Warner and though they got on it was a fascinating combination, the one cerebral, the other rough and ready, the philosopher and the visceral.
When Cowan scored a diligent hundred against South Africa in Brisbane last November it seemed a significant breakthrough had come at last. But it has been followed by more of the same that came before – 11 scores above 20 in 17 innings, none above 86.
“It’s a hard game,” he said. “I think the more you play at this level the more you realise it is harder than it looks. You learn because of the variation in conditions.
“I have played in the West Indies and in India, they have been my two away trips and they’re so far removed from what I am used to that your game experience explodes.
“There is now a lot less fear involved in my game plan to spin. Having not faced a lot of it in Australia I feel a new man, post-India.
“I am 31 now and I was saying to Matthew Wade in the nets ‘Why didn’t I learn this when I was 18?’ I am still learning, albeit under pressure and intense scrutiny, but that makes the journey more enjoyable.”
With this sort of character it is always interesting to hear what they plan on doing when their careers are over. “I think I’d feel guilty going back to investment banking,” Cowan said. “I don’t know if I have the lack of morality to shift wealth around the world. I don’t know what I’ll do, I plan on scoring a few more Test runs.”
Cowan may well turn his hand to writing. He finds the exercise therapeutic and has pages of notes in his phone of topics he wants to cover.
“When I was writing my diary, some days I was walking on to the field, I could stop and wonder what I would get to write about today,” he said.
“I would start describing my hundred before I got out. It’s important when you’re batting to bat, have the moment with the ball and then think of what to write. That was sometimes a nice feeling, finding descriptions of how you’re feeling, then you’re back batting and then you’d drift back again.”
Intellectual or not, he is plainly thrilled to be in England on the verge of an Ashes series. Whether he plays or not is probably exercising his every waking moment. His experience of having already played at Trent Bridge for Nottinghamshire this season may tilt the balance in his favour.
Cowan said: “It’s a cliché unfortunately but it would be a dream come true. You dream about playing in the Ashes. For me to hang on to a place for nearly two years is a dream in itself.
“Pre-tour, I spoke to Ricky Ponting and Mike Hussey, they said there’s Test cricket and there is Ashes cricket. They spoke of the intensity, the atmosphere and not just for two or three days, but five days throughout a Test match and then turn up to the next venue and five days again. They said it’s relentless, you will love it.”
It would be a pity if Australia cannot find room this summer for this intriguing philosopher.Reuse content