The English Cowan


Recently, I wrote a piece entitled ‘The Cowan’, about the opening batsmen since 2010 most capable of facing up to ball after ball. It was simply an account of their ability to face balls, not score runs, and measured Kaushal Silva and Alastair Cook as the numbers one-and-two.

Given England’s inability to find a replacement for Strauss as Cook’s long-term opening partner, it seemed to me that it was worth looking at the candidates used through the ‘Cowan’ lens.

Coming into the fifth Test of this years’ Ashes, six different batsmen have been partnered with Alastair Cook on a ‘permanent’ basis since Andrew Strauss’ retirement.

Nick Compton is the most prominent, given the calls for his reinstatement. He lasted 17 innings before he was subbed out for Joe Root, sparking one of the more remarkable turnover rates in world cricket.

Root lasted five Tests, before his replacement Michael Carberry lasted the same. Sam Robson received seven matches, only for Jonathan Trott to make a venture to the top of the order in a bizarre experiment that lasted three games.

Adam Lyth has received six matches since then, only for the calls for his sacking to be growing by the moment.

Looking across these six candidates, as well as Alastair Cook and Andrew Strauss themselves, I investigated who the opener with the best ball-facing ability really is.

[Note: both Jonathan Trott and Michael Carberry opened in a Test apiece versus Bangladesh, in early 2010. These matches have been omitted from their personal and partnership records.]

For each of the candidates, I looked at two things: their personal results, and their partnership performance.

For personal results, one name stands surprisingly out in front: Michael Carberry. The man who flailed and failed during the 2013/14 Ashes in Australia has surprisingly come out trumps. This could be put down to outliers (such as his 12 off 81 at Adelaide, a testament to scratchiness, not solid defence), but it could also be put down to his consistent starts without ever scoring well, given that he scored less than 30 only four times out of ten during that Ashes summer.

Cook and Strauss sit neck-and-neck, whilst Root and Compton are almost identical (not only in their end-ranking, but also the calculations up to then).

Sam Robson sits a fair distance behind, while Adam Lyth and Jonathan Trott are so far out as to be embarrassing. Trott’s rating is so poor, in fact, that in the original ‘Cowan’, his end-figures would have been in the negatives.


For the partnership estimation, so rare are unbroken partnerships that I avoided the ‘per innings’ calculation entirely, and just worked on ‘per dismissal’.

Median remained the same, obviously, but the 50 and 100 balls-faced rates became 100 and 200 balls instead.

I also decided to equate more value to the 100 and 200 rates; rather than each having a 0.5 value as above, they now received a 1.0 value each.

The end result was that Compton and Cook cleaned the floor with all-comers. They were streets ahead of Cook and Root, who came a distant second. They came just ahead of Cook and Strauss, and Cook and Robson, who were equal.

Further down, the Cook-Lyth partnership was equal with Cook-Carberry, with both pairings being disappointing. The Trott-Cook partnership was a very distant, and very poor, last place.


For the next part, I looked at combining both the personal and partnership records. This meant omitting Cook and Strauss – it became a look at the six candidates to be Cook’s partner.

To start with, I readjusted these measurements, removing the references to Cook and Strauss in the personal rankings, and removing the Cook-Strauss partnership from that measurement. Then I had to equalise the two numbers – with each man ranked from one to six, but with three categories in the personal rankings and four in the partnership, they weren’t equitable figures.

That was simple; simply divide the personal ranking by three, and the partnership ranking by four. The sum of the resulting two numbers then gave us a ranking.

1. NRD Compton (3.33)
2. JE Root (4.75)
3. MA Carberry (5.92)
4. SD Robson (7.00)
5. A Lyth (9.33)
6. IJL Trott (10.42)

Take from that what you will. It certainly suggests, for my mind, that perhaps Nick Compton was more than a shade unlucky.

Naturally, the partnership can be a bit misleading. Cook’s dismissal could unfairly misrepresent one of these players, and it his much-famed form loss was as drastic as the media managed to paint it as, then certain members of these six may be negatively impacted.

So I decided to look at the six batsmen’s partnerships with Cook, and record which opener got out first.

Compton: 16 dismissals, 10 Compton, 6 Cook
Robson: 11 dismissals, 6 Robson, 5 Cook
Lyth: 11 dismissals, 8 Lyth, 3 Cook
Root: 10 dismissals, 5 Root, 5 Cook
Carberry: 10 dismissals, 3 Carberry, 7 Cook
Trott: 6 dimissals, 6 Trott, 0 Cook

It’s immediately noticeable that Cook has tended to be the longer lasting batsman, with his batting partner being the first dismissed 59.38% of the time.

The only batsmen who fall significantly under this threshold are Joe Root and Michael Carberry, both of whom performed as openers when Cook was at his worst. Carberry especially has had his record detrimentally affected by Cook’s woes.

But I haven’t included this in the other stats, simply because it’s almost impossible to quantify. Added to this, the partnership is about both batsmen. It’s simply the luck of the draw that Carberry didn’t receive a great run in that regard.

Perhaps it can be taken as a mitigating factor in Carberry’s third place, but it doesn’t seem right for him to dislodge either name above him, regardless.

So there you have it – Carberry is England’s Cowan, but the man most capable of sticking it out in a shine-removing opening partnership is Nick Compton.

Funnily enough, neither man has any realistic prospect of an England recall. Much like the man the stat is named after, plying his trade on the other side of the globe.

Blocking the ball ain’t fashionable, it seems.


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