The Big Interview: Doncaster’s first Yorkshire CCC cap Mike Cowan

Mike Cowan
Mike Cowan

Fast bowling funny man Mike Cowan has made a living out of being sharp.

His raw pace as a teenager terrorised batsmen in Doncaster, fast tracking him into a Yorkshire side featuring the likes of Fred Trueman and Len Hutton.

Mike Cowan

Mike Cowan

Firm but fair, Cowan played the game he loves with a smile on his face, his humour quickly establishing him as a popular member of the White Rose county’s all-star cast.

Nowadays that same quick-wit and charm - as well as his countless cricketing tales - earn ‘the entertainer’ plenty more laughs on the after dinner circuit.

Cowan celebrated his 80th birthday on Monday, another landmark for a man with 276 first class wickets to his name. A time to reflect.

And as the first Doncaster lad to play for Yorkshire, he looks back on his career with a mixture of pride, joy, but also sadness.

“I moved to Doncaster when I was four from Leeds,” said Cowan.

“The first time I came to the cricket ground in Doncaster was in 1941. I fell in love with the game straight away.

“You could play cricket in the street in those days.

“I was fortunate where I lived on Harrowden Road (Wheatley) there was a lamp post outside the house. The second ridge up on it was the height of the wicket and the width of the road was 22 yards, so I used to bowl at the lamp post.

“I couldn’t get a game for the school team because I bowled left handed. But I started to bowl quick when I played for the works team at the bottom of Wheatley Road, known then as Bembergs.

“I got five wickets against Doncaster Police who were a good side and I was asked to go to Yorkshire nets.

“It was in 1953 when I made my debut as an 18-year-old lad.

“The first time I ever touched the ball I caught David Sheppard at mid-on. And where was my debut at? Lords.

“The week before I was playing against Scunthorpe Town for British Ropes. Next week I’m at Lords absorbing it all on the balcony.

“I remember Len Hutton came to stand at the side of me.

“He said ‘I just want to wish you the best of luck. Don’t forget, bowl straight. When they miss, you hit.’

“During national service with the RAF I started pro-ing in the Bradford League with Bingley.

“It was when I was with the RAF I was chosen to tour Pakistan with the MCC.

“That’s when I got my foot wedged under a matting wicket and damaged my back. I had to be flown home to have a bone graft in my spine.

“I got back into the Yorkshire side and got my cap but when that happened I was bowling well.

“I can’t help but look back and think what might have been had I not got injured. I was on the verge of cracking it.

“Len [Hutton] took a shine to me. I remember him saying how sorry he was that I got injured.

“If you look at the Yorkshire side I got into, with the likes of Len, Fred Trueman, Willie Watson, Ray Illingworth and Johnny Wardle, I was the only one who didn’t play in a Test. I was only 18 and a half.

“I got back into the side though,” he continued.

“My best figures were 5-15 against Surrey and 9-43 against Warwickshire.

“But I’d have liked to have known what would have happened if I didn’t get injured.

“I was very proud to get my Yorkshire cap. I was the first Doncaster boy to get one. That’s something I cherish.

“I was in a good side. Now I’m older, I realise how lucky I’ve been.

“We won the County Championship twice, in 1959 and 1960.

“The first time we won it I got a Parker pen with my name on, the second time we got a £100 bonus. Times have changed.”

Cowan, who lives a stone’s throw from Doncaster’s Bennetthorpe ground, played his final game for Yorkshire in 1962 before spells in the Central Lancashire League and with Wakefield.

He ended his career at his beloved Doncaster Town, skippering a side he packed full of youngsters to glory in the Yorkshire League Cup.

“I organised a trip to Cheltenham on the back of the cup win and what a spirit there was back then,” Cowan recalled.

“We never seem to have lost that spirit since.

“It carried through to when my son Nick captained Doncaster at Lords in 1998, when we became National Club champions.

“The game’s changed immeasurably now though. There’s not the characters there used to be.

“I’m not a fan of this Twenty20 cricket but the young kids seem to like it.

“When I was a young lad the Doncaster League used to be one of the biggest leagues in the world.

“Every colliery and works place had two or three teams, it was fantastic. Nowadays there’s very few clubs with junior sections, there’s too many distractions.

“I’m worlds behind. But I’ve seen the game at it’s best.

“I’ve been very lucky to play where I did and play in such a good side,” he added.

“I’ve made a huge amount of friends out of the game. I can’t think of anyone that considers me an enemy.

“When I speak I like to talk about the game and reminisce. I enjoy that immensely, talking about the games and people I’ve played with and against.

“I’ve been very lucky in that respect.”