So the Good Lord really wants to fill out his team: how else to interpret the passing in recent months of three of the finest footballers of the past century — Jack Charlton, Nobby Stiles and Ray Clemence. All received thoroughly deserved eulogies. All had reached the highest realms of their sport and, though none made it to a very great age, they did at least achieve the biblical milestone of three score years and ten.
All deaths have a depth to their sadness, felt most deeply by immediate family, but not all have an added melancholy that engages us in a quite different way. Graham Cowdrey’s passing in seemingly straitened circumstances after a short illness was such a death. He didn’t reach his three score and ten — he was only 56 — and he didn’t achieve the highest realms of his sport, although he was a mighty fine batsman for Kent for more than decade. He was part of a powerful cricketing dynasty (the son of Colin, of course) so that was no surprise. What made Cowdrey’s passing different — and so affecting — was that his cricketing talent came across as being secondary, bottom of the pile even, to all the other things that made him the man he was.
His later years were scarred by personal and financial difficulties. But those who knew him at a young age remember something unusually likeable about him. You didn’t need a getting-to-know-you process with Cowdrey: he was just natural, warm and very funny. And immensely gifted — quirkily so when the mood took him. He once batted in a chest guard in a 30-over match at Tonbridge School, knowing he was up against a very quick quickie. He ostentatiously used the armour to fend off the first ball which rocketed away to the boundary. Then he brought his bat into play in a remarkable innings of 220.
He was king of the dressing room through his humour, and so charming that it didn’t feel like charm. He was hilarious to be around and everybody just loved him: ‘We would have done anything for him,’ said one former player. ‘All his pranks were victimless. We were glad to be part of them.’
The story goes that he once declared in a second-team match at 6.20 — hence ending play ten minutes early to nobody’s benefit — by winding down his window and whistling from his car as he left the ground. He was late for a concert by Van Morrison, a singer he was said to have seen more than 250 times. Rory Bremner, for whom Cowdrey was best man, remembers him as ‘the funniest man I’ve come across’. So no one should be surprised at the sounds of laughter emerging from the celestial pavilion.
Department of humble pie: this column made the profound mistake of suggesting that the All Blacks couldn’t possibly lose to the Aussies in Brisbane judging by the Wallabies’ previous woeful performances. That wasn’t so smart. Not only did a relatively inexperienced Kiwi team lose a pulsating match, but a full-strength All Blacks side got rolled over by Argentina at the weekend in Sydney. It was the first time the Pumas had ever beaten New Zealand, and the first time the All Blacks had lost two Tests on the bounce since 2011. Oh to have been in Buenos Aires that evening, with a case or two of Argentinian Malbec.
It’s always cheering to see the All Blacks on a slump, however short-lived. As we have said before, Ian Foster, their coach, was appointed for political reasons. A much better choice would be Scott Robertson, the all-conquering Crusaders leader and a pure-bred rugby man. In the meantime, let’s gloat a bit — even though England’s current performances are woefully dull and unambitious. But as Eddie Jones never ceases to say in some form or another: ‘You want to win or you want to entertain?’ Well, a bit of both would be nice.
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