All-rounder rel­ish­ing world stage af­ter year out to hon­our county con­tract with Kent

Weekend Argus (Saturday Edition) - - SPORT - STU­ART HESS

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.

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