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Ryan McLaren: South Africa’s specialist all-rounder in shorter formats

Ryan McLaren © Getty Images
Ryan McLaren © Getty Images

Ryan McLaren was born on February 9, 1983, in Kimberley, Cape Province. South Africa’s bowling all-rounder has had to strive every sinew to play for his country. He though, in his brief career has made a fine impression in the international circuit. Bharath Ramaraj looks at the highlights of his career.

From the days of Aubrey Faulkner, Jimmy Sinclair, Trevor Goddard, Mike Procter, Clive Rice to Brian McMillan, Shaun Pollock and last but not the least Jacques Kallis, South Africa have been gift-wrapped with a heavy dollops of crackerjack all-rounders who could turn the game on its head with both bat and ball. So, when the South African bowling all-rounder Ryan McLaren burst onto the First-Class scene in 2003-04, his chances of playing for his country seemed remote. Even then he was unmistakably a fine seam-bowling all-rounder, but in a country like South Africa, you need to be the best in the business to play as an all-rounder.

McLaren took a stackful of wickets in 2006-07 South African First-Class season, yet he was left to ponder about his future in the confines of a narrow trench of wilderness. Just like other South African cricketers, he finally took the Kolpak route to play County cricket for Kent. It was only when he starred for the Kent team in County championship in 2007, and took a hat-trick to help them lift the coveted Twenty20 (T20) Trophy, did it seem to open the eyes of the South African selectors that here was an all-rounder who could play for the Rainbow Nation.

With Pollock’s distinguished career coming to an end by the end of 2007, South Africa were in search of a bowling all-rounder. It resulted in them plumping for McLaren for the tour of Bangladesh in 2008. However, Kent didn’t release him from his contract and he had wait for a few more months to make his debut for South Africa.

It was only in 2009, when McLaren made his One-Day International (ODI) debut against Zimbabwe. Yes, it was a low key encounter against a minnow, but McLaren would have been proud of his achievement of having played for his country.

In January 2010, he made his long awaited Test debut in the crucial final game of the series against England at the New Wanderers Stadium, Johannesburg. On a true hard track with pace and bounce, South Africa’s spearhead Dale Steyn, with able support from Morne Morkel, went about their job of mercilessly destroying England in a thoroughly professional manner. McLaren didn’t have much to do. But he would have enjoyed the champagne flowing liberally on everyone in the dressing room after a fine win that helped South Africa to draw the Test series 1-1.

Unfortunately for McLaren, it turned out to be the only time he wore the white flannels for South Africa till now. Yet, they continued to pick him for the ODI side. McLaren hasn’t touched stratospheric peaks in his ODI or Twenty20 International (T20I) career. However, he has been a consistent performer for them in the abridged versions of the game.

Last year, when South Africa faced the ignominy of losing to New Zealand for the first time at home in an ODI series, McLaren was one of the few cricketers who stood tall amongst the ruins for the Proteas.

Ryan McLaren © Getty Images
Ryan McLaren is not in the same class of all-rounders as some of his illustrious predecessors, but he has made a name for himself © Getty Images

In the humdinger of a contest at Paarl, it was McLaren’s four-for that kept South Africa in the game, before New Zealand edged out the hosts. In the match played at Potchefstroom too, he took four wickets in the match. In the subsequent ODI series against Pakistan played at home, he was again among the wickets on most occasions.

It was in the ICC Champions Trophy 2013 that McLaren shone brightly and gave a few seismic shocks to the opposition ranks with his fine all-round showing. In the game against India at Cardiff, McLaren played a gallant knock of 71 in a losing cause. In the key encounter against Pakistan at Edgbaston, it was his ability to hit the deck hard to keep Pakistan batsmen on tenterhooks on the back-foot that proved to be the telling difference between both sides. He took four wickets in that match. His effervescent endeavours took South Africa to semi-final of the tournament, where they lost to hosts England.

He followed his incandescent showing in the Champions Trophy by showing his wares in the desert of UAE against Pakistan. In the second ODI played against Pakistan at Dubai International Stadium, with a mixture of changes of pace and back of a length stuff, he left the batsmen in a state of trance by taking four for 34. Pakistan’s bowlers though, hit back by bowling with vigour and zeal to hand South Africa a 66-run defeat. It must have been difficult for McLaren to swallow the bitter pill of losing the game despite taking four wickets in the match. In the series against India played at home, he yet again carved a niche for himself as a fine seamer.

It also has to be said that with the legendary all-rounder Kallis having walked into retirement life, it has opened the flood gates for McLaren to make a comeback into the star-studded South African Test team.

Now, Ryan McLaren won’t go down as one of the finest all-rounders to have come out of South Africa’s cricketing stables. But he has held his own with consistent performances in a team made up of twinkling stars.

(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)

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