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Gentleman and Player The Story of Colin Cowdrey, Cricket’s Most Elegant and Charming Batsman By Andrew Murtagh

Release date: 20th July, 2017
Publisher: Pitch Publishing

List Price: £18.99
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According to former county cricketer and author Andrew Murtagh, a batsman has around 0.4 of a second to react to a bowler’s extra-fast delivery, ie one that exceeds 90mph.

It’s difficult to imagine how it feels to face such a lightning-fast ball careering its way like a missile towards your head, especially in the pre-protective helmet era, yet as Murtagh points out, Colin Cowdrey, a man with 114 Test caps, more than 7,000 Test runs and 100 first-class centuries to his credit “knew how to survive and flourish against the very fastest.”

Colin Cowdrey was more than an accomplished, supremely gifted and elegant cricketer, though. He readily accepted that bouncers were an integral part of a fast bowler’s armoury (even after a sickening whack to the jaw inflicted by Andy Roberts in 1974), but in many respects his attitudes and outlook embodied the game itself. As Murtagh writes: “Cowdrey believed that you should always carry yourself like a gentleman, both on and off the pitch, and you should treat your opponent with respect.” He disapproved of the abrasive, confrontational posturing that was beginning to take root as his career drew to a close.

What he made of Jeff Thomson’s response to his cheerful greeting – “Mr Thomson, I believe. It’s good to meet you” – as he strode out, aged 41, in an attempt to blunt Australia’s pace attack at Perth with Messrs Thommo and Lillee in full cry is not recorded.

The author had to persuade Colin Cowdrey’s family that writing another biography of a wonderful cricketer who died at the age of 67 was worthwhile. They need not have worried. Murtagh’s narrative is liberally peppered with illuminating insights that draw upon his previous career as a professional cricketer, a dimension which makes for a particularly engaging read.

Apart from telling a great story, Murtagh also persuaded Sir John Major to write a foreword in which the former prime minister reveals that he regularly sought Cowdrey’s opinion on many subjects over a late-night whiskey; it’s easy to imagine the cricketer calling Major and opening with “Morning, Skipper – Cowdrey here.”

With Ted Dexter, Colin Cowdrey was instrumental in incorporating a preamble to the laws of the game, The Spirit of Cricket. He believed that cricket had to be played in the right spirit; otherwise, what is the point?

There are plenty of opportunities to ruminate over the highlights of Colin Cowdrey’s career, but perhaps the one that says most about the man is the fact that when granted a memorial service at Westminster Abbey, he became, after Sir Frank Worrell and Bobby Moore, only the third sportsman to have been so honoured.

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