Seeing the charming and personable Ed Cowan struggle to compile runs at test level was and is hard viewing. He is a genuine, honest person in an era of regurgitated sound bites and interviews riddled with garbled clichés – something that has always endeared him to the national public. Always intensely critical of his own performances and technique, the stodgy left-hander is undoubtedly one of the more intellectual cricketers on the Australian scene. Cowan’s history of deep thinking in regards to his own game has been both a blessing and a curse – his meticulous and exact batting style helping him amass runs at first class level, yet becoming a mental block at the highest form of cricket. Cowan’s overthinking is undoubtedly a case of paralysis by analysis.
Usman Khawaja has long been hailed as a savior to Australian batting – a man always credited with the calm mental approach required of a pilot (he himself being fully qualified to fly) and a smooth technique to boot. Perhaps the cricketing world jumped the gun on Khawaja. A pilot is not necessarily relaxed, just as a politician may not gifted with smooth fluid public speaking abilities. Both Cowan and Khawaja are inhibited by the same mental demons when it comes to making runs for the baggy green.
Both have had their chances at test level. Six tests have resulted in the single half-century for Khawaja, who has never looked likely to prosper whilst in the middle. Cowan’s crowning moment was a sublime 136 that ended in a runout, but then there was the ridiculous – his innings almost forgotten as Michael Clarke blazed to a legendary 259*, with perennial fan favourite Michael Hussey scoring a round 100. Instead of his century instilling a firm belief in his own place at test level, Cowan has since looked out of place. In his 10 tests since, he has only managed three half-centuries alongside a mediocre average of 26.68.
Cowan and Khawaja may start off their innings positively, but often allow bowlers to dictate terms to them. Their respective test strike rates of 41 and 39 reflect two players restricting themselves, both men lacking the daring to break free of their self-imposed chains. Once a world-class bowler such as James Anderson or Graeme Swann smells blood, it is only a matter of time before the strike. Swann in particular would enjoy the prospect of the stiff-legged thrusts from either batsmen when it comes to off-spin and both are ducks in the shooting gallery in front of accurate swing bowling.
The stereotypical left-handed flair certainly isn’t there in Khawaja or Cowan either – something that the has left the Australian public in rapture throughout history, notable cases being the legendary Clem Hill, the dashing Neil Harvey and more recently, the inconsistent yet freakish assaults of David Warner, a man capable of battering any attack into oblivion when he clicks. Now the nation has lost faith in Cowan, a man who lacks the spark that keeps us intrigued in the case of Warner, yet the selectors seek to replace him with a man so similar. Khawaja may have more natural talent, but Cowan’s relentless search for perfection has seen levels the playing field somewhat – both have extremely similar track records at this point in time. The dropping of Cowan is simply replacing a broken part with another.
Unless Khawaja can rise above his own inhibitions, he is at risk of becoming the next sacrificial lamb, just as Cowan was. Meanwhile, the search for the next Ponting continues. Relax and hit the ball.
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