Colin Cowdrey – Or the Essence of Cricket

The batsman’s job is to score runs and the bowler’s is to take wickets. Is that cricket in a nutshell or can we get even closer to the essence of the game with the help of the masterful Colin Cowdrey?

The batsman scores runs by timing the ball.  That is, hitting the ball in the sweet-spot of the bat with a force and direction that avoids fielders and makes runs possible.

Timing can be elusive, but there is no magic to it.  Some, like Colin Cowdrey appear to be natural timers of the ball, but that’s because they have near perfect techniques deeply engrained. Perhaps knowing they have this knack gives them the confidence not to force matters but to let technique do the job.

The Lap of the Gods? A young Colin Cowdrey 'lifts' the ball to midwicket.

Watching the wonderful golfers at the Masters, Third Man still marvels at the way a very good golfer drives the ball a long distance without the appearance of great effort.

Golfers bring the club down, shift their weight through the line, increase the club head speed with the rotation of the shoulders and the hips and a late movement of the wrist all with a consistent precision that allows them to hit the ball consistently and accurately with force.  Batsmen do the same but with a moving ball sent down by the bowler.

Look how Cowdrey (below) has finished after pulling the ball effortlessly.  No great follow-through, probably no great batspeed,  just ‘helping’ the ball to the boundary with consumate balance, poise and timing.   Those on the field with him as partners, opponents or umpires spoke of his ‘melodious’ bat.

In the balance – Cowdrey pulls to the boundary

All dismissals (barring run outs and obstructing the field) are achieved when the bowler interferes with the judgement of batsmen and induces them to mis-time the ball, either missing it entirely and being bowled or given out LBW, or hitting it inaccurately in the air to a fielder or down on to their own wicket. 

Cowdrey had periods in his career when he scratched and pottered around against even mediocre county bowling.   Many, including Test selectors, were perplexed by this.  But surely the explanation is that the more a batsman’s effectiveness is dependent on timing, rather than power, the greater the impact is when bowlers disrupt that timing or when the batsman loses total command of his technique. 

Feet of Clay - a rare moment when Cowdrey is induced to miss the ball

The aim of the bowler, therefore, is to induce in batsmen wrong decisions as to elements of the speed, line, length and eventual path of the ball that cause faulty, inaccurate executions of shots. 

The batsman’s game is to time the ball.  The bowler’s is to upset the batman’s timing.

Watching Cowdrey was to glimpse the essence of the game


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3 responses to “Colin Cowdrey – Or the Essence of Cricket

  1. Colin Cowdrey – so wonderfully summed by your piece. On form, imperious; off form, horrid to watch.
    But what a fantastic player and great servant to England.

    Perhaps David Gower was another fantastic ‘touch player’ too. Amazing effortless timing on his day, but on other occasions……

    • Thank you for leaving a comment, Bob. The spam system caught it for some reason and Third Man is only just getting to grips with the technology.
      Promise to try a piece on Gower soon.

  2. diogenes1960

    remembers pat pocock’s memoirs….a county match meandering to a halt…play us some shots, Colin…they would call out a shot, Titmus would bowl…and Cowdrey would oblige…an artist if the Yorkies and Aussies are determined to denigrate him for cheating

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