All-rounder relishing world stage after year out to honour county contract with Kent
RYAN MCLAREN was genetically predisposed towards sports.
That’s not to say he had no other option growing up, but a ball of some sort was always going to be a fixture in his life.
Mum Maggie was a provincial hockey player for Griqualand West, dad Paul played provincial hockey and cricket for Griquas.
“If I didn’t get into sport it wouldn’t have been their fault. But the genes were there, it was in my blood,” McLaren explains. “At school level I played a lot of hockey, at primary school a bit of football. But once in high school I drifted towards cricket and hockey.
“I played both until under-21 level and then eventually you have to make a decision. I was fortunate to represent SA schools (in hockey), but after that cricket took preference.”
That decision was driven as much by the financial rewards cricket offered, which were incomparable to hockey’s meagre economic returns, as by his sheer love for his current sport of choice. “Deep down I always knew it would be cricket.”
Typical of most South African boys, and in keeping with one educated at the sporting cradle that is Grey College in Bloemfontein, McLaren didn’t have a preference for one aspect of the game. Batting, bowling, fielding, he could and wanted to do it all, and that foundation provided him with the expertise that have taken him on a journey from Kimberly, to Bloemfontein, to England where he played for Kent and onto the Indian Premier League.
Nowadays he’s clad in the green and gold, and is looking to forge a place on the international scene.
“As a youngster you wanted to bat, bowl and field. You always wanted to be a part of the game, that’s how I grew up. It was not an aspiration of mine to be a genuine allrounder. I guess some people would say I was a bowling all- rounder, but I work really hard on my batting and ja, nowadays I’d like to hold my own as a batter in the team or be classed as a genuine all-rounder.”
His initial forays at international level have been positive. He’s quickly earned the respect of teammates and the side’s management. Mickey Arthur had always pressed for his inclusion in the national set-up but it took two years for all the relevant pieces to fall into place.
The biggest fragment of the puzzle was ending his contract with Kent, something McLaren couldn’t do last year when he was first selected for the national side.
“(Then) I still had an existing contract with Kent, and I obviously wanted to play for South Africa. But because I had that existing contract I said to Kent, ‘I’d love to play (for SA) but on condition that you release me’, which they didn’t and which I understood because I’d signed that contract.
“I had to honour that contract. So I withdrew from the (national side). I thought it was the ethical and moral thing to honour the contract.”
Although Arthur was cognisant of the extra year on the Kent contract, he’d hoped that through Cricket South Africa they could sweet-talk the English county into releasing McLaren. That didn’t happpen, but it certainly didn’t jeopardise McLaren’s chances of breaking into the national side, despite their recent successes.
Once the selectors had decided that the side needed refreshing after the Champions Trophy, McLaren was an obvious candidate for a call-up. But, given that he was on the county scene for three years and had become an integral part of the Kent side, did he at any stage a think about doing a Jonathan Trott or a Craig Kieswetter and pledge allegiance to the cross of St George?
“There was never any thought at any stage that I wanted to play for England. The opportunity to play county cricket came when Graham Ford (then Kent coach) phoned me and like anyone else at some stage you want to play county cricket. At that stage I thought that was best decision I could make for my career.”
In South Africa and England there have been grave concerns over the influx of South Africans on the county circuit. From a South African perspective, there are worries about the loss of talent – as in the case of Trott and Kieswetter – while England believe the influx inhibits the development of their own young players.
“It’s a massive debate,” says McLaren, who acknowledges his three-year stint there was extremely valuable. “Whether some guys do it because they want to play for England, or they just want that experience of playing country cricket, that’s an individual’s decision.