Peter Hayter sug­gests that the thoughts on bats­man­ship from Colin Cow­drey are as valid as his Sev­en­ties sang froid

The Cricket Paper - - FEATURE -

Clear­ing out the nerve cen­tre (gar­den shed) the other day I chanced upon a yel­low­ing sin­gle page from a long-lost pub­li­ca­tion con­tain­ing tips from ar­guably the most tech­ni­cally cor­rect bats­man in Eng­land Test his­tory which may even hold the key to win­ning the Ashes Down Un­der this win­ter.

Two con­vinc­ing se­ries vic­to­ries have given Joe Root the per­fect start to his cap­taincy.Yet he knows his team can only ful­fil his pre­dic­tion of great things against Aus­tralia if the top five can first blunt, then score heav­ily, against their high-class pace at­tack.

Mark Stone­man seems cer­tain to make the fi­nal cut to join Root and Alas­tair Cook, and his work gives cause for cau­tious op­ti­mism.

But three more spe­cial­ist bat­ting spots in the squad re­main to be filled from the likes of Tom West­ley, Dawid Malan, Keaton Jen­nings, Alex Hales, Gary Bal­lance and Haseeb Hameed.

And so far, no mat­ter which way up you hold their Test per­for­mances, to a greater or lesser de­gree all have shown ba­sic tech­ni­cal weak­nesses that, if left unchecked, would leave Eng­land vul­ner­a­ble to the kind of start from which they re­cov­ered this sum­mer but may not against the Aussies.

So, with due re­spect to highly-rated bat­ting coach Mark Ram­prakash, I pass on thoughts and ad­vice from the man gen­er­ally ac­knowl­edged as Eng­land’s most pro­fi­cient at the arts and crafts of bats­man­ship, the great Colin Cow­drey.

Ashes stu­dents will re­call that when, on the 1974-75 Ashes tour, Eng­land’s bats­men were be­ing ter­rorised and hos­pi­talised by Den­nis Lillee and Jeff Thom­son, they sent an SOS to a 41-yearold who had not played Test cricket for four years and, on a chilly De­cem­ber day, per­suaded Cow­drey by phone to come out of re­tire­ment. “I’d love to,” he told chair­man of selec­tors Alec Bedser.

His com­po­sure in the white-heat of bat­tle has passed into Ashes folk­lore, as has the ex­change with Thommo in the mid­dle in the sec­ond Test at the WACA, two days and three hours of nets af­ter Cow­drey had landed, re­counted by the tear­away bowler him­self.

Ac­cord­ing to Thom­son: “‘Good morn­ing, my name’s Cow­drey’, he said.

“As I handed my hat to the um­pire, I was revved up and just wanted to kill some­body and Kipper walked all the way up to me and said, ‘Mr Thom­son I be­lieve, it’s so good to meet you’. ‘That’s not go­ing to help you, fatso’, I said.”

Forty-three years on, Eng­land’s un­cer­tain top or­der could do with some of Cow­drey’s sang froid. More specif­i­cally they could also do worse than re­flect on the con­tents of Some Tips From The

Master, a sum­mary of a talk given by Lord Cow­drey to the Mid­dle­sex As­so­ci­a­tion of Cricket Coaches.

For, what­ever your views on mod­ern coach­ing, his words carry as much weight and res­o­nance now as they ever did. To many, the pre­am­ble will ring a bell straight away:

“One can be a bore about tech­nique, overdo it; but to­day’s player is not re­ally giv­ing the at­ten­tion to de­tail that will serve him best.” Cow­drey lists ten head­ings – here are the edited high­lights:

1. Keep It Sim­ple

It’s a com­plex art; and the best play­ers and coaches are those who suc­ceed in re­duc­ing its prob­lems to the sim­plest terms.

2. Stance – The Wrestler

Once I was part­ner­ing Brian Huggett (Welsh Ry­der Cup hero of the Six­ties and Sev­en­ties) in a golf four­some and had ner­vously shaped for a four-yard-chip when he sud­denly shouted: “Walk away, walk away!”, then, com­ing up to me, said: “Now go back and play it quite quickly, and what­ever you do, bend your knees!”. Later he ex­plained: “Once you bend your knees, you soften your hands.” He was ab­so­lutely right, and it’s true of bat­ting; so much of the art of bat­ting lies in ‘feel’, and in ‘soft hands’. As soon as you tighten your legs and knees ev­ery­thing else gets tight.”

3. Grip – Top hand tight but ad­justable; bot­tom hand – fin­ger touch

I wish I had been told, as a 12-year-old, to re­lax that bot­tom hand – only when I got into my early Test matches that I saw the great play­ers and learnt from them.

4. The Cra­dle – Fore­arms & El­bows, for ‘feel’

How many left el­bows are ‘work­ing’ to­day? That’s what I look for; I was taught from the age of six or seven to make that left el­bow work... make it go through.

5. Head Still – The Key To Mastery

Per­haps the least em­pha­sised ... and so ob­vi­ously es­sen­tial! Whether you want to read a pa­per, or are a look-out for dan­ger, you need to keep your head ab­so­lutely still and as erect as pos­si­ble; so too in bat­ting, or you won’t see the ball or time it prop­erly.

6. De­fence – For­ward & Back – Along the Pitch

So many play­ers play across them­selves; you lose where the stumps are, not quite cer­tain if it’s safe to leave the ball. Con­trast Barry Richards who stood still in front of his mid­dle stump, play­ing straight for­ward or back. I cer­tainly en­vied him.

7. Out­side half of the ball

When the ball’s leav­ing you and you’ve got to play it with no time to ad­just, play at the out­side half of the ball. I learnt it from (Len) Hut­ton, who learnt it from (Herbert) Strud­wick.. and so on.

8. Start Of The In­nings

The first two balls are des­per­ate times. Talk to your­self. Freeze out the op­po­si­tion. DON’T GET IN­VOLVED! Sim­ply look for the ball and sur­vive! For the first two balls I rec­om­mend no back-lift at all.Wally Ham­mond used to grab his bat and shove his bot­tom hand right down the han­dle for the first two or three.

He told me:“Ev­ery new back­ground takes about an over to pick up. Give your eyes a chance to fo­cus.” Don’t be tempted/an­noyed/ex­cited into play­ing some am­bi­tious shot. Or you’ll be re­gret­ting it for the next two hours in the pav­il­ion.

9. Carve Out The Sin­gle

Next, hav­ing sur­vived, no need to feel des­per­ate or take risks. Bet­ter a se­ries of sin­gles than a flashy drive that gets you out. Re­mem­ber; the longer you’re there the eas­ier the game will get.

10 Bat in Pairs

The great­est fun I’ve had out of cricket has come from the mu­tual trust and achieve­ment of bat­ting part­ner­ships.You can and must help each other. One may say: “I don’t fancy this bowler – can you take him for a bit?” and the other may re­ply: “If you place one a bit wide of mi­don, I’ll be look­ing for the sin­gle for you – he doesn’t throw too well...” You’re not alone out there.

There will be some who de­tect a cer­tain Pathe News quaint­ness in all this, es­pe­cially when you read else­where of Cow­drey’s idea of Aussie sledg­ing: “Up a bit! This fel­low can’t play on his leg stump,” some­what re­moved from “get ready for a bro­ken f***ing arm”.

Oth­ers will con­sider these tech­ni­cal niceties hope­lessly out of date.

But who­ever you are and how­ever much you think you know about bat­ting, I would sug­gest you ig­nore tips from The Master, and from Hut­ton, Strud­wick, Ham­mond and even Huggett at your peril.

And that will cer­tainly ap­ply to some mem­bers of Eng­land’s Ashes top five this win­ter.

One can be a bore about tech­nique, overdo it, but to­day’s player is not re­ally giv­ing the at­ten­tion to de­tail that will serve him best

PIC­TURES: Getty Im­ages

Master of art: Colin Cow­drey was re­garded by many as Eng­land’s most pro­fi­cient at the arts and crafts of bat­man­ship

Per­fect start: Joe Root led Eng­land to a se­ries vic­tory over West Indies

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