Three centuries, 959 runs in nine games at an average of 73.76. A highest score of 212 for the season. One batsman dominated the Sheffield Shield season more than any other. Was it an up-and-coming star, or a fringe international star returning from injury intent on plundering a return to the far more glittering surrounds of Test or One Day International cricket?
No. It was a man long since cast aside by the Australian selectors, thrown on the scrapheap, his biggest crime being unfashionable. At 34-years of age, Ed Cowan certainly can’t be said to be passed his prime, and the 2016/17 Sheffield Shield season he’s just had with New South Wales is more than enough evidence to suggest the canny left-hander from Paddington, adopted as a cult hero by a small band of cricket intellectuals with a love of the traditional nature of both Test cricket and the man they humbly refer to as OME, which, naturally stands for ‘Our Man Ed.’
OME returns with stunning results
Few could have predicted his stunning return this season, even those with tremendous faith in his ability would have struggled to foresee a season where he topped the run scoring charts, some 98 runs ahead of the next best, Hilton Cartwright, who also happened to play a game more than Ed and clock an average around 20 runs per innings lower than the hero of this piece.
Cowan brutalised an unsuspecting opposition with deft touches, guile, traditional cricket stroke making and a tenacity often seen to be lacking in the modern cricketer. Ed approached 2016/17 like he was the hungriest man on the field, and only runs could slake his hunger, he drove forward a New South Wales side constantly forced to adapt to losing players left and right to international duty and injury, but still star-studded enough that some could have the temerity to call for the hierarchy to move him on, suggesting there was nothing to benefit from letting a 34-year-old trot out each week in the place of a greenhorn twenty-something who has been tipped for stardom and expects he will play for his country sooner rather than later.
Ed defied this. Ed defied most things in a season of spectacular panache from a man few expected capable of such highlights. His 212 against Victoria at the Melbourne Cricket Ground is testament to his ability to ‘go long’ and build an innings on the back of strength and shot selection and it was just reward for him and those who had kept the faith as well.
A truly unique character
There is absolutely no doubt Ed Cowan is a unique character. Anyone who has seen the images of him, clad in his blue kit tucking in to an ice-cream at North Sydney Oval as New South Wales took on Queensland can attest to the fact he does things his own way. An avid reader, an intellectual in a game famed for once having them but experiencing a significant and noticeable dearth of them in recent years, Ed has always appeared as somewhat of an outsider, not one to truly embrace the ‘boys club’ approach many take in the modern game, but his record with willow in hand is as enviable as just about any.
Few players who have managed to play Test cricket for Australia can boast having played club cricket in the Netherlands, which Ed did back in 2010 to “keep touch” during the northern summer, or played one-day cricket for Scotland, but it is this unique approach, borne so clearly out of a love for the game and a desire to play it as often and as long as possible that stand testament to why so many average park cricketers like me relate to a man who has managed to play 18 Test matches for Australia.
He may not see it as a glowing endorsement of his skillset, but I see a lot more of myself in Ed Cowan and the way he approaches his cricket than I do in a David Warner, a Steve Smith or a Mitchell Starc. That’s not a knock on any of those fine players, but they each scream out ‘elite cricketer’ while Ed comes across as the park cricketer done good, one of us who happened to actually be quite handy at the game and managed to carve out a niche career in a game that would have constantly thrown up obstacles to his progression, and with that, reinforced by his stellar season with the Baggy Blue on, Ed Cowan has truly earnt the cult status he now enjoys, or, more likely, has little to no idea even exists, no matter how often I tweet him.
What are your best memories of Ed Cowan’s career to do date? Do you have an obsession with another cricketer? Let us know in the comments below.