'I don't think I was badly treated by England'

Former England allrounder Chris Cowdrey talks about living in his dad's shadow, his short-lived Test career, and favourite county memories

Interview by Jack Wilson  |  

"I once said I don't mind if I'm not as good as my father but I want to be good enough" © Getty Images

The title of my autobiography is Good Enough? Don't forget the question mark. I once said I don't mind if I'm not as good as my father but I want to be good enough. In one way I was because I loved every minute of my career, but I know I should have done better.

Some people said I was made England captain because Peter May, the chairman of selectors, was my godfather. I never felt there was favouritism. We were struggling at the time against a West Indies bowling attack which was one of the best in the world. You always expect people to question the chairman of selectors when you're losing, but I don't feel too many questioned the decision to appoint me - or at least they didn't to my face.

We were 1-0 down in India in 1984 when we went to Delhi. What a difficult place to win. We needed three wickets in the last session and they were a few runs ahead. I walked out on the field with David Gower when he turned and said: "Okay, do I bowl the spinners or a fast bowler?" I had a think for about 20 yards and said I'd bowl a fast bowler one end and a spinner the other. He said: "Thanks, that's made my mind up, I'll bowl spinners from both ends." Even in India, one of the hardest places to captain, he had that sense of humour.

Normally you get time to prepare as England captain. Not for me. I went into my one game with no plan on how we were going to beat West Indies. No one had any ideas - except for the players to go and step up. That doesn't help when you're playing against Curtly Ambrose, Malcolm Marshall, Courtney Walsh and Winston Benjamin, three great bowlers and one very good bowler.

I had to share my old man with the rest of the world. He was always on the phone, people were always coming round to speak to him, people were always talking about him, and we couldn't go anywhere without people wanting to chat.

I had an ambition in life to captain Kent to the County Championship. My father did in 1970 and I wanted to do the same. A lot of people say, "Why didn't you have the ambition to play 100 Tests?" I just didn't. In 1988, when I was picked as England captain, we were winning the Championship, and I honestly think if that hadn't happened, we'd have won it. Not because we massively missed my captaincy but because taking a man out causes disruption.

"I went through a spell of wanting to play golf when I was in my early teens. That all ended when a couple of pros had a look at me. They said I had no chance!"

I'd never really expected to see my name in England squads. In the second game I played since captaining England, I went up to Chesterfield and came off at tea 100-and-something not out. At that point I was expecting to be in the squad, which hadn't happened really with me before. As I walked off, some bloke from the crowd shouted towards me: "Bad luck on not getting picked." I hadn't heard anything from the selectors and that's when I found out I hadn't been called up. It shook me up a bit. I just turned and thanked him very much for telling me.

My father was the England captain, and because of that I thought I would rather not play cricket. When I was offered a contract by Kent I was still at school. It was then I stopped and thought: "Well, I might as well play for a while." I went through a spell of wanting to play golf when I was in my early teens. That all ended when a couple of pros had a look at me. They said I had no chance!

I got a lot of sledging about the old man. I'm not sure I could quote a lot of them but let's just say people were knocking him. I was playing one game against Leicestershire and Ken Higgs was playing for them. Dad had left him out of the team when he was the Test captain - and he never let me forget about it. He kept bowling bouncers and after every ball I got a tirade of abuse.

I replaced Ian Botham in the squad to face India in 1984, but I wasn't daunted. There was an opening for an allrounder and I snuck in. There were a few allrounders on that tour. Vic Marks, Richard Ellison and myself - but none of us were Ian Botham. He could bat brilliantly, he was the best bowler, and he caught everything. I didn't expect to play, if I'm honest.

I don't think I was badly treated by England. I've slightly clouded memories because it all came and went so quick. I wish I'd played a few more ODIs as they were more my strength. I hold no grudges. There's no bitterness to anyone.

I'd been fielding at short leg for a day and a half in India, where it's 100 degrees in the shade, before I bowled my first over. India love playing every shot through the leg side. I had a bloody nostril, a cut ear from a sweep shot, and I was coughing up blood. I'd never felt so ill. David Gower turned and said: "Good news, the moment has come, you're bowling." My first thought was, "Oh no, it'll take me a week to get this kit off". I turned to take my shin pads and box off and he said: "Don't worry, you won't be on long enough to worry about that, keep them on." So I bowled with the gear on, three balls went down leg side, and I could barely get my arm over my ear because of all the bruises I had. Then I got the wicket.

Kapil Dev tried to hit me out of Mumbai when I bowled a straight one, but it nipped back a bit and bowled him. Dad was listening on the radio. He'd pulled over to hear the commentary of my first over on Test Match Special and couldn't believe what had happened. He ended up driving the wrong way down a one-way street, in the sleet and the snow in November.

"I went into my one game [as England captain] with no plan on how we were going to beat West Indies" © Getty Images

David Gower had a captaincy style all of his own. There'll never be anyone quite like him. At times he would be really, really laid-back. Then, if something didn't go well, he'd lay it all on the line. I liked it that way.

We all took the mickey out of my great friend Richard Ellison. He was such a nice man - a bright guy, but so gullible. One game we scored 450 and bowled the side out for 130, so we were obviously going to enforce the follow-on. Except, we told Richard, who normally batted at nine, we weren't going to. We said we wanted him to get some practice in because he was going to open with Bob Woolmer. Bob was in on it, pretending to pad up. So Richard went out onto the ground with his pads on and he had some people in the crowd throwing balls to him and he was hitting him them into the advertising boards. As he was doing that, thinking he was getting this great opportunity to open for Kent, we all walked back past him ready to field. He didn't take it well.

I had a heart attack in 2011 - when I was five yards outside a hospital. I had had surgery on both knees before and one of them wouldn't stop bleeding. I went back into hospital and they said I needed three stitches and it'd be fine. I waited three or four hours, as you do, walked out and didn't feel that well. Suddenly my t-shirt was wet, I didn't have a clue what was going on. I remember being picked up into a chair after and as they pushed me back in, I was saying: "It's not my knee, my knee's fine!"

I loved having a beer with the opposition after every day's play. Even Shane Warne liked to do that and he only retired a few years ago. But the game has changed and moved on. It just can't be done now. The standard is just sensational. Players have to be super fit and you can't socialise like we used to.

I spoke to my son Fabian about dealing with the Cowdrey name but he's pretty relaxed about it. It helps that there's been a bit of a lull between me and him. My old man was the first to ever play 100 Tests, the England captain then, and I had to follow him when he was very much still involved. He was playing a year before I started. In the Kent dressing room all the other players had played with him, so I was under a bit of pressure. For Fabian there's a bit of a gap and following me is a lot easier. I gave up in 1993 and he started his pro career in 2012, so that's a hell of a break. He's got the attitude of choosing to like the surname, too.

"I bowled with my fielding gear on, three balls went down leg side, and I could barely get my arm over my ear because of all the bruises I had from fielding at short leg. Then I got the wicket of Kapil Dev"

Going on the rebel tour to South Africa in 1989 was a no-brainer. I was still slightly smarting from the fact that my reign as England captain was over and that I wasn't going to play again. I'd spent two years out in South Africa before, so to have a chance to go back was very exciting. I wasn't so bothered about the politics of whether it was right or wrong but we got a lot of criticism for going. Very early on in that tour they released Nelson Mandela, so it wasn't all bad.

If you compare dad, myself, my brother Graham and Fabian, you couldn't have four more different players - but Fabian has a bit of my old man about him. If you give him a half-volley outside off stump he's far more likely to smash it through cover point than me or Graham.

One of the funniest moments I've seen came at Tunbridge Wells. Derek Underwood got Ray East, a left-arm spinner for Essex, out in the last over before tea. Ray came back out to bat with a helmet on for the evening session - but we all knew who it was. Derek Underwood got back to his mark and the umpire, Jack Birkenshaw, kept looking at the batsman, trying to work out what was going on. You could see he was puzzled. Then he stops and shouts: "Is that you, Easty?"

Alan Knott and Derek Underwood were the best bowler-keeper partnership I've ever seen. The understanding between the two was unbelievable. Knotty was a freak wicketkeeper on the field and a complete eccentric off it. He's the best player I've played with.

I went on a young England tour in 1976. There were a good group of players on it: David Gower, Mike Gatting, Paul Allott and Paul Downton. I feel for Paul now. He's done an amazing job running English cricket but it's such a tough role. If the team wins, it's all down to the captain and the players. If they lose, people pick on the authorities. I'm surprised he hasn't asked me to come back and help him!

I doubt I would have bowled as much if I wasn't captain. I was more of a batsman and I batted like an allrounder. I needed the freedom to be an entertainer and that's what the bowling gave me. If I got three or four low scores and was getting caught at the boundary, I could have a bowl and have another string to my bow.

I have a few regrets. Not winning the County Championship in 1988 was one. The fact I didn't practise enough is another. I watch Fabian train and I'm in awe at the time and effort these modern-day players put in.

Fabian Cowdrey (batting): has a bit of his grandfather about him

Fabian Cowdrey (batting): has a bit of his grandfather about him © Getty Images

I ended my career at Glamorgan and the move came totally by chance. I'd given up playing because my knees weren't good. I was speaking at a dinner in Cardiff where I was sat next to Alan Butcher, who was then captain of Glamorgan. We were talking away over a few beers and he was telling me he had a brilliant one-day side that was short of just one player. He needed someone who batted at five or six and who was a good fielder. I said: "That's me, isn't it?" So we sat down, had a long chat and sorted it out.

I think I was before my time in my approach to fielding. I loved it and I went out there to enjoy it. Paul Parker and Derek Randall are two I particularly loved watching. I had decent hand-eye skills and I just loved catching cricket balls.

I look at Fabian and envy him. He's a proper, proper player who'll bat all day, and he's very greedy. I'd get to 40 and play bigger shots, get caught at cover and off I'd go. He grew up wanting to bat as long as he could. He wants to play all forms of the game for Kent now.

I've not got a problem with the way sledging is in the modern game. It's part of what it is. It goes with making the game more professional, because people need to win at the last resort. Old players like me - and before me - played the game hard and thought "why do we need to sledge?" But the game has long changed since then.

We didn't win a thing in my season at Glamorgan, even though it was a lot of fun. Then I left and the team immediately started winning. I don't know what I did but it worked. Well, at least that's what I tell myself!

People made a bit about me and Graham Dilley not getting on, but I didn't find him hard work. He was a lovely bloke who got moody with the ball in his hands. There's nothing wrong with that.

I don't know if I want to see franchise cricket happen in England or not. It's not a foolproof plan by any means. One of the great things about T20 is that it's played under lights. It's the most spectacular thing seeing it raining sixes at nine or ten at night. In Australia at 6pm the ground is brilliant under lights but we don't have that darkness until 9.30pm - and we can't play later. Maybe we're going to have to cut our losses and play more in the afternoon.

I'd have liked the challenge of captaining KP, yet it doesn't look like people have overly enjoyed that challenge!