|Posted on July 14, 2011 at 12:00 AM|
Mike Atherton - The Times (London, UK)
It is said that failed politicians make the best diarists. The most acute cricket diaries emerge from failure, too, or at least from those players as much acquainted with failure as success.
Graeme Fowler’s Fox on the Run, which charted his descent from England opener to Lancashire’s second XI, was an early outstanding example, followed by Simon Hughes’s classic journeyman’s tale, A Lot of Hard Yakka.
The best players are usually too self-absorbed to notice what is going on around them and too self-conscious to write honestly. Like prime ministers, captains’ diaries have more than half an eye on their legacy to be anything other than plodding and, if still in situ, cannot be anything other than tame.
A worthwhile diary needs someone good enough to be in the dressing room, but not so good that their position stifles honesty. Step forward Ed Cowan, first of New South Wales, latterly of Tasmania, who is producing a beautifully observed account of his year in domestic cricket last winter as England cut a swath through Australia.
Cowan is a more than a journeyman — he played for Australia A against England in Hobart — but clearly no superstar, as his diary of the season, with all the angst that those of us long since retired have forgotten exists on a daily basis, reveals. Cowan touches on Australia’s problems in an interesting way, analysing how far the standard of domestic cricket has dropped since his debut for New South Wales and the meretricious effects of the Indian Premier League.
Of the latter, he says: “You can be paid a lot more for not being as good as you used to have to be. Perhaps that’s more ‘democratic’, but it also seems to make efficiency sufficient when the objective should surely always be excellence.”
Of the former, he reckons the decision to abandon state second XIs in favour of an under-23 competition to be the worst made by Australia. “The difference now is not in first-choice XIs — they are still strong,” he says. “What is noticeable is that the quality falls away amongst replacements, in the bottom 20 per cent of Shield squads.”
There are some also delightful anecdotes. My favourite concerns Kevin Pietersen, who, during the Australia A match, was heard to exclaim, as he cast his gaze over the lunch buffet: “What the f*** is this?” Cowan told him that since he was staring at bread and butter pudding, an English dish, KP ought to recognise it. “I’m not f***ing English, Eddie,” our hero said. “I am South African; I just work here!” Lovely.
Into the Firing Line, by Ed Cowan, will be published by University of New South Wales Press, but will also be available in e-book form. Look out for it.