The 30-year-old has gone from being born into a famous Kimberley family through Grey College in Bloemfontein, stints as a Kolpak player in English county cricket for Kent and Middlesex, three IPL teams and on to play for South Africa.
Although the national selectors named a 15-man squad yesterday to take on Australia in the three-Test series next month, McLaren is the favourite to replace Kallis, coming in at number seven and providing the team with a fourth seamer.
National selection convenor Andrew Hudson spoke of “staying with the brand of cricket that has brought us such success” and that means a fourth seamer will be an integral part of South Africa’s game plan, which involves unrelenting pressure on the opposition.
But, as coach Russell Domingo pointed out, with no Kallis, having a fourth seamer means either dropping a batsman or not playing a spinner.
“We have to do away with the luxury of having seven specialist batsmen. Number seven will now probably be an all-rounder or a spinner.
“It’s very difficult to have seven batsmen, four seamers and a spinner. Something has to give, and I do like to have a spinner because it gives the team a lot more balance,” Domingo said yesterday.
It won’t of course be a Test debut for McLaren because he has appeared for South Africa in the ultimate version of the game before – against England at the Wanderers four years ago.
McLaren bowled tidily as part of a five-prong seam attack that ran rampant over England, dismissing them for just 180 and 169 as South Africa romped to victory by an innings and 74 runs to level the series. The left-handed batsman also scored 33 not out coming in at number eight.
Wayne Parnell also made his debut in that match and has also been included in the squad to play the Aussies. Although Domingo said he loved the 140km/h pace and left-arm variation that Parnell brings to the attack, McLaren’s greater consistency – he could do the holding role alongside Steyn, Morkel and Philander very well – and better ability with the bat should see him get the nod.
McLaren has the experience of already playing 40 ODIs and 10 T20s for South Africa and has become an integral part of the 50-over side in the last year. He’s a genuine all-rounder: In 103 first-class matches he has scored 3860 runs at an average of 30 and has taken 329 wickets at 25.47.
McLaren said he has no delusions of stepping into Kallis’s boots but is also confident that he can perform the role the national team requires of him.
“I’ve pretty much made peace with the fact that you can’t make comparisons between myself and Jacques. There’s only been one Jacques Kallis and there will only ever be one.
“So I’m just going to focus on the role I have to perform, which is batting seven and bowling second-change, which is pretty much what I’ve been doing most of my career.
“As an all-rounder, there’s always the physical demands of contributing in both disciplines, but it’s nothing new for me because I’ve been doing it for the Knights for many years – bowling 20 or 25 overs a day and batting.
“I will take some confidence from how I’ve performed well in ODI cricket in the last year, but Test cricket is a totally different game, it’s where every cricketer wants to be measured. And there’s no greater test than playing against Australia, so I’m excited for the challenge,” McLaren said.
The absence of Kallis will lead to another change in the batting order, with Domingo confirming that Faf du Plessis would be promoted to the number four spot, the place where greats such as Graeme Pollock, Sachin Tendulkar, Wally Hammond and Javed Miandad batted.
“It’s no state secret, Faf is the guy we have earmarked for number four. He made a big hundred at number four to save a Test recently and he bats there at franchise level. He’s a suitable replacement,” Domingo said.
Robin Peterson, the left-arm orthodox incumbent, is the only specialist spinner in the squad, but Hudson said the selection certainly did not mark the end of Imran Tahir’s Test career.
“Robbie P has put in some good performances lately and he did well in Perth at the back end of the last tour to Australia. He fits in with the style of cricket we want to play.
“But we know Imran Tahir can bowl with variety and an attacking leg-spinner on a turning pitch is still an option for us because we play a lot of cricket in the sub-continent. We certainly are not going past Imran,” Hudson said.
Domingo suggested that the pitches for the three Tests – in Centurion, Port Elizabeth and Cape Town – will favour the quick bowlers, setting up the most tantalising pace war between the two best fast bowling attacks in world cricket.
“We would like pitches that assist our bowlers. Our batsmen are well-versed in South African conditions, whereas in Australia the pitches are more in favour of the batsmen. In South Africa they favour the fast bowlers more and our batsmen are used to adapting to that,” the coach said. DM
Squad – Graeme Smith, Alviro Petersen, Hashim Amla, Faf du Plessis, AB de Villiers, JP Duminy, Dean Elgar, Ryan McLaren, Wayne Parnell, Thami Tsolekile, Robin Peterson, Vernon Philander, Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Rory Kleinveldt.
*Left-arm paceman Beuran Hendricks and off-spinner Simon Harmer will practice with the squad for the sake of preparation against Mitchell Johnson and Nathan Lyon.
Photo:Ryan McLaren (REUTERS/Siphiwe Sibeko)
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