Chris Cowdrey reflects on his cricket days at school
Source: The following article published by The Cricketer, May 2021.
Since 2007 the Wisden Cricketers’ Almanack has named one pupil as their Schools Cricketer of the Year. The inaugural winner was Jonny Bairstow, who averaged more than 200 for St Peter’s School, York, and names such as Jos Buttler (King’s College, Taunton, 2009) and Tom Kohler-Cadmore (Malvern College, 2013) have received the award since.
However, with little competitive schools cricket in 2020, the Almanack decided that rather than name a winner for the year, they would retrospectively nominate the outstanding schoolboy cricketer for each year from 1900.
From St Paul’s School’s Percy Fender in 1909, through to Bedford School’s Sir Alastair Cook (who is named as the outstanding schoolboy cricketer in both 2002 and 2003) there are some fabulous names on the list.
Another one that catches the eye is Chris Cowdrey, whose 1975 summer for Tonbridge School saw him score 966 runs at 80.50 and take 30 wickets at 13.86.
Chris Cowdrey and his younger brother Jeremy. The full list of Wisden Schools Cricketers of the Year 1900-2019 appears in Wisden Cricketers' Almanack 2021, out now
Both Chris and his father, Colin (Tonbridge 1949 and 1950) are on the list. The only other father/ son duo is Jack (1938) and Robert Leiper (1979), both of whom went to Chigwell School.
The Cricketer caught up with Cowdrey Jr to reflect on his schooldays and that magical summer of ’75.
“That was my fourth year in the 1st XI so if I didn’t do well that year there would have been something wrong!” the former England captain tells The Cricketer.
“I don’t remember one particular innings from that summer, I just remember people going on and on about me getting to 1,000 runs. In those days it didn’t happen very much because we didn’t score at the same rate as they do nowadays.”
It’s not the personal milestones and achievements that Cowdrey remembers, but rather the people who make these such fond memories.
“Not only do I remember my team-mates very well but I see quite a lot of them still.
“My vice-captain was a fellow called Nick Kemp. He was a magnificent cricketer who went on to play for Kent and Middlesex. He was a very jovial character.
“Our wicketkeeper was David Macnamara who I see all the time now, he lives around the corner.”
Cowdrey captained the side in 1974 and ’75, his final two years at the school, but as previously mentioned he played in the 1st XI for four seasons.
“I only played in the first year because the opening batsman put his hand through a window, not an open one, by mistake just before the first game. He was out for the season.
“They couldn’t find another opener so I was picked from lower down the school.
“I loved it, absolutely loved it. Those Saturday mornings, the nerves of an 11:30am start, fantastic.
“Kemp was probably the quickest schoolboy fast bowler around. I bowled the other end and we had a couple of other good seamers. We were finding that sides were coming for the draw before the game started.”
Zak Crawley has followed a similar path to Cowdrey on paper
Fixture lists included the likes of Dulwich College, Haileybury, Harrow and Wellington College. An end-of-season festival was also contested between Tonbridge, Felsted School, Eastbourne College, Clifton College and Winchester College.
“That was nice,” Cowdrey remembers. “It was a whole week of having a few beers and getting to meet the guys from other schools. This was after term finished so we all stayed in a house together in Eastbourne. We met up a lot with Felsted, Derek Pringle’s old school.”
One memory that Cowdrey looks back on is when his younger brother, Jeremy, was picked to play against MCC.
“We picked Jeremy out of the colts and he bowled these high leg spinners. They were horrible, they were so difficult to block because they went so high.
“What would happen is as soon as Kemp came off we put Jeremy on and MCC’s batsmen would have these huge wind -ups.
“On The Head, the main pitch at Tonbridge, Jeremy took 7 for 90 in about 12 overs, all caught at long -on and mid -wicket.”
Cowdrey went straight from school to be on the books at Kent. Kemp, along with the county’s current director of cricket Paul Downton, were also signed on the same day. It is a similar path that England’s Zak Crawley has recently taken, but while wearing Kent and England colours will probably have been on Crawley’s mind long before he left school, the same isn’t true of Cowdrey.
“I had no thoughts of if I got runs for school it would help me get a contract at Kent. It was purely the fun of playing, getting some runs and winning for the team.
“I never really thought about going on in the game. Some players at a young age think that all they want to do is play cricket but I didn’t really think about it. I thought there was a chance because of my old man but I just played.”
How Cowdrey’s career panned out needs no further explanation, but the foundations were laid at school. Cricket, to him, was just a game that was played purely for fun. Of course, times have changed and the ever evolving nature of professionalism requires players to commit earlier but Cowdrey’s is a refreshing attitude.
Hopefully this summer, many more school players, both male and female, will rediscover simply playing for the fun of it.