The tributes flowed freely on Wednesday for Graham Cowdrey after his death at the age of 56.
They spoke of his warmth, wit and generosity of spirit as well as his passion for cricket, the sport in his blood. He was a much-loved player, an attacking batsman who scored more than 14,000 runs in 450 first-class appearances across 14 years at Kent from 1984.
He was also wonderful company. Quick with a joke or an anecdote from his days in the dressing room, often at his own expense, such as the time paceman Michael Holding removed his teeth with a bouncer or his enduring struggles against leg spin.
Tributes have been paid to former Kent batsman Graham Cowdrey after he died aged 56
His brother Chris, who captained England, wrote this heart-warming message on social media
Former Kent captain Matthew Fleming said: ‘I am numb with shock and sadness that the brilliant, generous, funny and complex friend who lit up so many cricket grounds has slipped away.’
Cowdrey hailed from a famous cricketing dynasty. His father Sir Colin, later Lord Cowdrey, who died at the age of 67 in December 2000, was one of the England greats — the first to play in 100 Tests, a former captain and a batsman of rare elegance and style. Brother Chris, the eldest of four children, captained England, too, and Chris’s son Fabian became the third generation of the family to represent Kent.
‘A sad day losing my brother Graham,’ Chris posted on social media on Wednesday. ‘There will be one short at every Van Morrison concert from now on! At least he died peacefully.’
Graham Cowdrey and his siblings look at the Wisden Trophy won by his famous father Colin
Graham was friends with Rory Bremner, in fact he was best man at his wedding. ‘There’s a great sadness but even yesterday my mind was full of memories of how funny he was,’ the entertainer said. ‘He had this way of making you feel good about yourself. He was so self-deprecating, so modest.’
In 1993, Graham married successful amateur jockey Maxine Juster, who became assistant to celebrated racehorse trainer Lady Herries, the second wife of Lord Cowdrey. Graham’s connections to the racing world meant he was renowned for his racing knowledge, as he was for his love of Van Morrison’s music.
He would accompany Warwickshire and England fast bowler Bob Willis to see his idol Bob Dylan in concert on the understanding that Willis would return the favour when Van Morrison was performing nearby.
A statement released by Kent CCC as they reported his death on Wednesday said: ‘Graham will be remembered for the way he played the game, his vibrant personality at the wicket or in the field, with his sense of fun as clear as his competitive passion.’
Cowdrey was known for his sense of humour in addition to his competitive nature
Yet life had been tough for Cowdrey since the end of his playing career. Despite his privileged start in life, family connections and his popularity among his peers, he was not immune to the pitfalls that follow professional sport. He descended into homelessness following an unfortunate chain of events triggered when his business interests began to unravel in 2013.
His professional fundraising company organised charity dinners and corporate hospitality events, and ran into trouble when a business partner vanished with £40,000 he had paid for corporate tickets to the US Masters golf.
Cowdrey told friends he accumulated a personal debt as he tried to honour the agreements and bought tickets for clients who had purchased them from him in good faith.
His marriage came under strain and, when he split from Maxine, he agreed to let her keep the house to look after their three children — Michael, and twins Alexander and Grace — and was suddenly without a home or an income.
Following the breakdown of his marriage, Cowdrey struggled financially and was left homeless
Family and friends rallied to support him or offer somewhere to stay and the Professional Cricketers’ Association were helpful, although Cowdrey was often too proud to go on accepting handouts for any length of time.
He lived for months in his car at his lowest ebb and his mental health deteriorated before he was helped back into the game as one of the ECB’s cricket liaison officers in 2015.
Back on the circuit, it was a job he enjoyed, despite only covering six months of the year during the county season.
It offered a little stability and some money to pay rent, and gave a leg-up out of the worst of his problems.
Out of season, Cowdrey rented a room in a house in Castleford, West Yorkshire. When lockdown delayed the county cricket season, he found work as a delivery driver in the area, where he enjoyed a degree of anonymity he might not have had in Kent and the South East.
Cowdrey worked as an ECB cricket liaison officers after some of the worst of his problems
It is a chilling reminder of how easily lives can slide into trouble.
Cowdrey was closely aligned to Reposm, a new charity created by former Surrey chairman Mike Soper to build affordable sheltered housing for former professional sportspeople who have fallen on hard times. Soper is a close friend of Chris Cowdrey and was inspired to launch the project after learning of Graham’s personal problems.
Reposm is still in its formative stages, still raising funds and making progress towards a target of £2million, boosted last week by the promise of £500,000 from the Professional Footballers’ Association.
Soper set out to help former cricketers including Graham, but typically he would resist help because he had a job, albeit a part-time one, and thought others were in greater need.
The project will continue in the hope of helping others like Graham, who died on Tuesday after a short battle with sepsis.
Cowdrey will be remembered fondly by the cricket world after he died following a short illness