The second of three generations of first-class cricketers, Michael Colin Cowdrey was born on December 24, 1932, in Putumala, India. His father, Ernest, made one first-class appearance for the Europeans in the Bombay Quadrangular Tournament in 1926. His sons, Chris and Graham, had successful playing careers, primarily for Kent. Chris played intermittently for England and was elevated to captain during the 1988 series against the West Indies.
English cricketing great Colin Cowdrey died on December 5, 2000, after a long illness. The former Kent and England captain, Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, 67, had suffered a stroke. Colin Cowdrey’s son, Chris, said that the legendary batsman died at this home in the early hours.
At that time, Chris Cowdrey was in Pakistan, covering England’s tour for a radio station. Obviously, the whole family is deeply saddened by the news. It came as a great shock, as he was recovering well from a recent stroke.
Colin Cowdrey was the fourth-highest-scoring England player in Tests at the time of his death. He has scored 7,264 runs at an average of 44.06 from his 114 Tests. Starting his career on the 1954–55 tour of Australia and finishing there 20 years later. He scored 22 Test centuries.
Colin Cowdrey held the record Test record fourth-wicket partnership with Peter May of 411, set against the West Indies in Birmingham in 1957. He also finished with 107 first-class hundreds to his name and 42,719 runs at an average of 44.82. Cowdrey was also a reliable slip fielder, taking 120 catches. That was a Test world record for a non-wicketkeeper at his retirement.
Colin Cowdrey had three sons by his first wife, Penny, two of whom played for Kent; however, Chris Cowdrey also played for England and Graham. After a divorce, he married Anne, a daughter of the Duke of Norfolk. Colin Cowdrey was, quite simply, the most eminent person in contemporary English cricket. Not only did he excel at the highest level as a player, but he held the most important administrative office in the game as chairman of the ICC.
Above all, he was a great lover of cricket and would take equal pleasure from seeing a youngster score his first century as he would watching an England Test match victory. To cap it all, he was a real gentleman with a wonderful human touch. Cricket is much poorer for his loss.
Former England captain Brian Close remembers Cowdrey as one of the game’s true gentlemen; he was a fine player and a hell of a nice chap. He was a true gentleman, and he believed that cricket should be played the right way. Brian Close was an international teammate of Cowdrey’s and also came up against his Kent team on numerous occasions.
I played with him and against him. He didn’t make too many runs against us, but he was a very good batsman. He was such an easy-looking player. You would never think he was going to make much of a mistake. Nobody’s perfect, but he always looked in command. After he had finished playing, he helped a lot with the administration of the game. Moreover, he also upheld the high moral standards that existed in our day.
Close’s former Somerset teammate Ian Botham said Cowdrey was a sad loss to everybody. I was lucky enough to play against him and spent quite a bit of time with him socially on the golf course and when sharing a glass of juice at the end of the day. He is a sad loss to everybody.
But he had this knack of playing what looked like a forward defensive, and it went for four through extra cover. He had exceptional timing with the ball. Cowdrey was one of the guys who could have fit into any era, like Bradman or Gary Sobers. He would have been a bit like me, I think. I don’t think he would have enjoyed the training they do nowadays, but he was still a very elegant player.
Meanwhile, fellow former Kent captain and teammate Alan Ealham added: He was a bit of an icon from my point of view, being a young man, coming into the Kent setup for the first time in 1966. He put me at ease right away, and I think a lot of the young players of the day owed a lot to him because he helped them on and off the pitch.
I batted with him when he scored his 99th first-class hundred against Somerset at Glastonbury, and that will always be one of my memories of him. It’s a sad loss for everyone involved in Kent cricket.
One of the greatest acts of cricketing courage I have seen was that of a 41-year-old man summoned from England in the middle of winter to bolster an injury-ridden Test squad in Australia, taking a strike at the WACA against the two fastest bowlers in the world.
A man who withstood the bouncers took the body blows and defied the most ferocious of fast bowling. In the name of England, that man was Michael Colin Cowdrey.
He had been known since his elevation to the peerage in 1997 and served the game with distinction as a player, captain, and administrator for more than half a century.
The first person to play in 100 Tests, his England career began on the 1954–55 tour of Australia and New Zealand at the age of 21. It ended in Australia twenty years later, when he was called out of England in December 1974 as an emergency player after injuries to key batsmen.
He played out the final five matches of that series, finishing with an unprecedented 114 Test appearances to his name. His career average of 7,624 runs at 44.06 with 22 hundred. That was, at the time, a world record. His record as a non-wicketkeeper is 120 catches, many taken in the slip. Among his greatest batting achievements was his contribution to a fourth-wicket partnership of 411 runs, which was the record at that time too. Cowdrey made 154, while Peter May scored 285 not out.
His highest score was 182 against Pakistan at the Oval in 1962. Frequently chosen as vice captain on overseas tours, his first opportunity as captain of England came against India in 1959. But it wasn’t until the late 1960s that he led his country with any regularity. His last Test as England captain was in Pakistan in 1968–69, after which the mantle was passed to Ray Illingworth. He had a record of 8 wins and 4 losses in 27 Tests at the helm.
Colin Cowdrey celebrated his unprecedented 100th Test appearance at Edgbaston against Australia in 1968 in the only way possible: by scoring a hundred. Though the courage of his defiance of Lillee and Thomson in 1974–75 remains strong in my memory, a look back at the archive footage recalls an even more courageous episode in Cowdrey’s career.
In 1963, at Lord’s, his arm was broken by West Indies speedster Wes Hall. England needed six to win, with two balls remaining and the ninth wicket down. If Cowdrey didn’t bat, the match would be over and the West Indies would win. Hence, Cowdrey came to the crease with his left arm in plaster and with the batsman having crossed at the fall of the 9th wicket.
He took his place at the non-striker’s end. David Allen blocked the final two balls from Hall, and the match was drawn. Cowdrey had a long and successful career for Kent from 1950 to 1976. He also represented Oxford University from 1952 to 1954. In 692 first-class matches, he scored mammoth 42,719 runs at an average of 42.89 with 107 hundred. His highest score was 307 for the Marylebone Cricket Club against South Australia at the Adelaide Ova in 1962-63.
The youngest person ever to play at Lord’s like a 13-year-old schoolboy, Cowdrey’s association with the game extended well beyond his retirement as a competitive player at the age of 43. In 1986–87, he served a one-year term as president of the organization with whom he shares his initials, the MCC.
From 1989 to 1993, he served as president of the International Cricket Council (ICC), a period that saw a great change in the operation of the ICC itself as well as the return to international cricket of South Africa. Cowdrey was president of the Kent County Cricket Club at the time of his death, having been appointed earlier last year.
ICC tribute to Colin Cowdrey
The ICC paid tribute to Colin Cowdrey of Tonbridge, who died in December 2000. As a past Chairman of the Council in 1987 and again from 1990 to 1993, Cowdrey was a courageous and inspirational leader of the international game.
During his tenure of office, he guided cricket through a number of important and sensitive issues, including the readmission of South Africa to the international game. He also pioneered the introduction of the ICC Code of Conduct and the move to independent officials in Test and one-day international matches.
Malcolm Gray, who knew Colin Cowdrey as both a friend and colleague for 20 years, paid his own tribute. He said Colin was a remarkable character who combined the ability to think clearly with the resolve to make tough decisions with tact and diplomacy.
Colin Cowdrey was cricket through and through and was loved and respected for his approach and achievements as a player and official. He always kept in touch with ICC affairs and only recently discussed at length his thoughts and concerns about current cricket matters. His death comes as a great shock, and our thoughts are with his family at these sad times.
Colin Cowdrey was the best-loved cricketer. A gentleman to the core, he always stood for what is noble and cultured about the game As a technical craftsman in the crease, he had few peers, and to see Cowdrey playing his full repertoire of strokes was one of the ethereal sights in the game.
Colin Cowdrey had more than one close association with India. To start with, he was born in this country and recalls in his extremely readable autobiography, Time for Reflection, how his cricket-loving father, a tea planter by profession, gave the newborn the famous initials. MCC for Michael Colin Cowdrey: soon after his birth in Ootacammund, he was christened in Bangalore.
The Colin Cowdrey family went back to England in 1938, and at school and Oxford University, the young Colin proved that he was a genuine prodigy. It was against India that he made two knocks that brought him into national prominence. Batting for Oxford against the touring Indians in 1952, he brilliantly scored 92 and 54. S. K. Gurunathan wrote in Indian Cricket.
In these two innings, the young cricketer fully lived up to his promise and showed himself unmistakably as a future England player. He has an easy stance and good forward strokes. He possesses the most important quality, temperament, which enabled him to play well at a critical hour.
The two innings were played in a losing cause, with the Indians winning by an Indian bowling attack consisting of Divecha, Hazare, Ghulam Ahmed, and Shinde. Ghulam, in fact, was quite unplayable on this wicket, taking 13 wickets in the match. It was also against India seven years later that Cowdrey captained his country for the first time.
After serving as deputy to Peter May, Cowdrey got his chance to lead England against India at Old Trafford when May had to undergo surgery. It was the first of his 27 Test appearances as England captain, spread over the next ten years. England won that Test by 171 runs. Cowdrey stayed on as captain for the final Test at the Oval, which England won by an innings and 27 runs to complete a clean sweep in the five-match series.
Colin Cowdrey declined to tour India with the MCC team in 1961–62. He was, however, named the captain of the MCC tea to India in 1963–64. At the last minute, he withdrew, and Mike Smith led the team. As luck would have it, when the side was badly hit by injuries and indisposition, the team management asked for a replacement, and Colin Cowdrey and Peter Parfitt were flown in at short notice.
Colin Cowdrey had not played any cricket since his arm had been broken by Wesley Hall in the Lord’s Test against the West Indies in June 1963. But bringing all his skill and experience into play, Cowdrey, who joined the team after the second Test at Bombay, got 107 in the next Test at Calcutta and followed it up with 151 in the fourth Test at New Delhi.
He took little time to settle down, adjusting himself well to the hotter climate and the turning pitches that lacked pace and bounce. But then, superb technique had always been his trademark. He did not play against India in a Test again. But the Indian connection continued via his son.
Colin Cowdrey’s eldest son, Christopher Cowdrey, made his debut against India in Bombay in 1984. When he bowled Kapil Dev, his proud father, listening in London to the radio commentary, was so astonished that he drove in the wrong direction along a one-way street.
A Little Too Nice for His Own Good
Colin Cowdrey will go down as one of England’s greatest players. And if he was just a little too nice for his own good, that’s hardly a character defect. You have to wonder how many runs he might have scored with the dedication of a Bradman or the selfishness of a Boycott. But then he would have had far fewer friends and wouldn’t now have the entire cricket world mourning his passing.
Colin Cowdrey was such a reassuring bulwark of the England team for the best part of 20 years that it’s hard to believe that one last recall is now impossible. He was solid and settled at the crease, and he possessed timing that few have matched. That cover drive was perfect and should be sent out on video to every coach in the world. One who would approve is Bob Woolmer, another Kent and England player whose batting owed much to Cowdrey’s.
Never has an infant been given more propitious initials. Father Cowdrey, a first-class cricketer himself, named his son MCC. He lived to see 13-year-old Colin; the first name Michael seems to have been just a device to ensure the initials were right; he became the youngest player to appear at Lord’s but sadly died as his son was preparing to make his Test debut in 1954–55 on the first of his tours of Australia.
There was an ongoing feeling that Colin Cowdrey was a nice chap, but one who lacked the hardness necessary for Test captaincy. He was mucked about a lot in that regard. Critics carped that he never converted any of his 22 Test centuries into doubles. And how they laughed when Cowdrey recalled at 42 to face the rampaging Lillee and Thomson at their pace peak, wandered out pale-faced at Perth, and introduced himself to Thommo.
Hello, I don’t believe we have met. I’m Colin Cowdrey. And so England’s selectors often looked elsewhere for captains Brian Close and Ray Illingworth Lesser players but supposedly harder individuals had their turn instead, while Cowdrey fumed quietly but politely in the slips, where he was as sharp-eyed a catcher as anyone.
But there was a steel backbone underneath that well-padded, well-rounded exterior. You don’t play 114 tests and score all those runs without one. He protruded at Edgbaston in 1957 when, at Cowdrey’s suggestion, Sonny Ramadin was padded away repeatedly. Cowdrey and Peter May put on 411, and Ramadin was finished as a test force.
It showed again in the West Indies in 1967–68, when his side overcame Garry Sober’s aging all-stars. And it pushed through the velvet corset once more in 1987. Colin Cowdrey, newly installed as MCC’s president in their bicentenary year, risked clouding the celebrations by ousting the secretary, whom he perceived as a stumbling block to better relations with the TCCB.
That battle may have started his health worries. He suffered a heart attack and missed the showpiece World XI match that crowned the bicentenary year. He made a good recovery but was never quite the same again. His administrative career continued with a spell as chairman of the ICC. He was very anxious to preserve the spirit of the game, which is now enshrined in the laws.
Colin Cowdrey was knighted and then made a lord soon after his ennoblement in 1997. I happened to ring his door, expecting a maid or a secretary to answer. But the polite, slightly hesitant voice on the other end was unmistakable. Is that Colin Cowdrey? I stumbled, clearly unused to the new title, and he chuckled. Well, yes, I suppose it is.