April 5, 2017

Pop goes the cricketer

Fabian Cowdrey has brought the Cowdrey line to an end at Kent by retiring, disillusioned, at 24, to support his brother's singing career

Fabian Cowdrey on Kent duty in the Friends Life T20, 2013 © Getty Images

Fabian Cowdrey, the assumption went, was born to play professional cricket. His grandfather Colin was the first to play 100 Test matches, won a campaign for the spirit of cricket to be included in the Laws of the game, was awarded a knighthood, and finally became the first cricketer to be made a life peer for services to the game.

To supplement the fame of Lord Cowdrey of Tonbridge, Fabian's father Chris captained Kent and even led England once in the infamous year of five captains in 1988. Uncle Graham was a solid county pro who extended the Kent line yet further.

Now at the age of 24, and less than four years after making his Kent debut, Fabian has had enough. He has retired from cricket - the game that made his family's name - to help his reality-TV-star twin brother Julius become a global singing superstar.

The Kent spectators turning up at Canterbury - where the Cowdrey Stand honours the family name - for the opening Championship match of the season against Gloucestershire on Friday will be in a state of mild disbelief when they hear Fabian tell that his love for the game has diminished.

"My love for the game is gone, my heart's not in it," Fabian says, a week after his Kent contract was mutually terminated. "I remember looking out the school window and looking forward to the weekend so I could play cricket - not now. I've been waking up each morning without having the motivation or drive to get the best out of myself, and it's not fair. I didn't want to be around the squad if I wasn't completely immersed in it."

Instead, he wants to devote his career to his brother Julius, who is in the limelight for different reasons, having become a star in Made in Chelsea, a BAFTA award-winning UK reality show centred upon the lives of affluent young people in West London.

The show's website proudly heralds Julius as "coming from cricket royalty". He is a handy allrounder too, at club level and also as a singer-songwriter. The eyes are now on him - not Fabian.

"I'll continue to play recreationally and maybe my love for the game will come back. But it's the last thing on my mind"

"I was made up for him when he got the chance on Made in Chelsea," Fabian said. "It's an interesting way to go and promote himself. He'd been offered to go on The X Factor and The Voice to promote his music - but he turned them down. Then Made in Chelsea came around and it was a chance for Julius to promote himself as a person, as opposed to relying on Simon Cowell."

Sidelined at Kent due to injury for much of last season, Fabian filled the summer playing the role of Julius' personal songwriter. The pair had worked together on tracks before, but with a reality-TV career thriving, Julius now had a leg up on his career path. And for Fabian, hitting the right notes off the pitch proved to be more fun than on it.

"With cricket, it just wasn't working. Success didn't fill me with fulfillment, and things didn't quite add up," he said. "There were games at The Oval, where I did well, in front of packed houses, but the self-satisfaction wasn't there.

"I wrote the lyrics to Julius' debut single, '7 Roads (I See You)', which now has more than 500,000 plays on Spotify. I watch him perform and it's fun. He's on a UK tour now and he's got a real hardcore set of fans who follow him wherever he goes - girls throwing jewellery at him once he's finished. I enjoy watching him and I'm dead chuffed for him. He always wanted to become a singer. Now it's more of a reality."

The Cowdrey name had been ever present as Fabian built his cricket career. In his final year at Tonbridge School, he broke his grandfather's record for most runs in a school year. Like Colin, he went on to university (Colin at Oxford, Fabian at Cardiff) with the primary intention of playing cricket. Neither was awarded a degree. He once related the story that, at three years old, he had supposedly whispered to his mother that he wanted to play cricket for England.

Instead, Fabian played 72 games for the county where his dad and grandad are legends, a practical if not outstanding cricketer who found a niche in the shorter forms. He took wickets at crucial times with his slingy left-arm spin, though his batting potential was never fulfilled. He scored bags of runs at second-team level but was often shunted up and down the order in the senior side, without ever making a spot his own.

Fabian's twin Julius, the beneficiary of his brother's songwriting skills © Getty Images

It was his inability to hold down a spot in the County Championship team - he played just 12 matches - that hurt him most. Unhappiness started to creep in 18 months ago and he describes being "mentally cooked" at the end of 2015.

Yet still he traipsed off to play club cricket in Australia. It was the country where Colin played his first and last of his 114 Tests. The country where, as a 22-year-old, he took a century off Ray Lindwall and Keith Miller that his tour-mate Tom Graveney hailed for its "unbridled genius". The country where two decades later he bravely withstood barrages from Lillee and Thomson after an emergency summons to a final Ashes tour. There Fabian captained the former Australia Captain Michael Clarke for Western Suburbs, but by that point the pleasure had gone.

"I went to Australia and played for the second year in a row and I shouldn't have," he reflected. "I should have recharged my batteries, as cricket had become too much. My love for the game had gone, my heart wasn't in it. For a year and a half it's not provided me with much fulfilment or happiness at all."

Now he has rediscovered passion, rediscovered drive. He has a new career, and a family name to make proud - away from the sport.

"I write the songs for Jules and I love doing it, I always have," he says. "Kent have given me five or six years of playing cricket and they've made my dream come true - but it's time to move on.

"In the press release about my retirement I refer to my 'darkest moments'. One of them was not breaking into the Championship side full time. I'll continue to play recreationally and maybe my love for the game will come back. But it's the last thing on my mind."

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Geoff on April 6, 2017, 20:38 GMT

    You're no Colin Cowdrey and you're no John Lennon. Made in Chelsea? Says it all.

  • Jose on April 6, 2017, 9:28 GMT

    Continuation from my earlier post.

    My instant reaction was, perhaps, a bit emotional, being an old Colin Cowdrey fan and of his beauteous & elegant batting style, And his old world charm.

    On second thoughts, I agree with Fabian's decision.

    Everyone should choose a profession, which fits in with not only his skills, but also with his mindset & and what he wishes to be.

    With best wishes to Fabian, in whatever he wishes to do.

  • Jose on April 6, 2017, 6:22 GMT


    Sixteen years ago, Robert Philip wrote on 1st Apr 2001, quite a gripping piece:

    "So you thought Oscars night was a pretty impressive gathering of A-list celebrities, did you? Well that was nothing compared to the bash the Cowdreys arranged on Friday. Prepare yourself while I name-drop from a very great height. I began the round of festivities with breakfast at The Ritz in the company of Sir Gary Sobers; repaired to Westminster Abbey where 2,500 people, including John Major, Ted Heath and William Hague, plus a veritable Who's Who from the world of cricket, attended a thanksgiving service in memory of the sorely-missed Colin Cowdrey; and ended the day sipping white wine on the terrace of the House of Lords where friends and family watched the Thames flow gently past with fond reminiscences of the great man."

    From there, here we are!

    A bit sad to see that legacy ending this way!

    If it is my typical Indian mindset which makes me say so, please forgive me.

  • Jonathan on April 5, 2017, 23:07 GMT

    Let's also remember Liam Botham, son of Ian,who initially said he wanted to be "better than his old man", and even took a five-for on debut: but played only three matches at first-class level, before deciding he would be better off in rugby - in which he had a decent club career in rugby union for three clubs (West Hartlepool, Cardiff and Newcastle Falcons) and even an appearance for England U-21, and was once in an full England touring squad but did not get a game. The switch to rugby league proved less successful, not least because of a persistent neck injury that ended his career prematurely after only two years in rugby league.

  • ian on April 5, 2017, 14:40 GMT

    Fair enough - and good luck to Fabian. It often takes young men and women a little while to understand the people they have become as adults. By their early thirties, things should have become sufficiently clear to know who you are and what you really enjoy doing (I would say, feeds the soul... A bit of old hippy-speak!). Youth is full of posturing and pretending... You just get through it. Go well, Fabian!

  •   Gulu Ezekiel on April 5, 2017, 14:12 GMT

    Great grandfather Earnest Cowdrey played one FC match in India in 1926-27, so four generations

  • Paul on April 5, 2017, 13:33 GMT

    It must be tough carrying a legendary name. The current generation has seen Hutton, Compton and now Cowdrey struggle with the legacy. The Headley dynasty didn't do too badly, although the D'Oliveira dynasty seems to be following the general trend.

  • Arun on April 5, 2017, 13:22 GMT

    Sounds like he was psychologically compelled to take up cricket because of his extraordinary family background. It doesn't look like it was pure talent that brought him up to that stage. I think he reached a stage where he realized he had more talent in writing songs than playing cricket. As an aspiring professional cricketer, that's a scary place to be.

  • John on April 5, 2017, 13:18 GMT

    Of course what is not given the stress it deserves in the article is the fact that he wasn't quite good enough to make the grade. If he had been the star of the side, I have it feeling it would have been more enjoyable.