McLaren banks on county experience
South Africa's one-day success has often been built on the back of allrounders and Ryan McLaren is the latest to show the strength of his spine. He top scored with 55, his highest 50-over score for South Africa albeit unrecorded because the match was unofficial, in the warm-up fixture against Pakistan at The Oval on Monday and as the new first-choice allrounder has been careful to ward off comparisons with the country's best two-in-one player.
"As far as Jacques Kallis is concerned, I don't think I should be associated in the same sentence with him right now," McLaren said. "He is one of the best cricketers, if not the best cricketer South Africa has ever produced, and one of the best the world has produced. To replace a guy like that is difficult."
Specifically speaking, McLaren has not actually taken Kallis' place in the starting XI. He bats lower down the order than Kallis, has a different role with the ball which includes death bowling and may well have been in the squad even if Kallis did not opt out for personal reasons. But his absence means McLaren will have to do a similar job by making an impact in more than one way and he is ready to take on that responsibility.
"That's the advantage you have as an allrounder: you can always contribute in two ways to the team," he said. "If one discipline fails then you've got an opportunity to contribute in the next discipline. When you do have the odd day that both disciplines go well, then you take that."
Much like Robin Peterson, McLaren has shown progress since he was given a sustained run in the ODI team. He has been a regular member of the side since their series against England in August last year and featured in the eight home matches against New Zealand and Pakistan. Since January, he has notched up his highest score with the bat (33) and his best bowling figures (4/46).
Those numbers are hardly Kallis-esque but they indicate potential and improvement. Combined with McLaren's maturity - despite playing only 22 ODIs, he is 30-years-old, has played high-level cricket for a decade with experience on the county circuit, which could be a good sign for what McLaren can deliver at this tournament.
McLaren was a Kolpak player for Kent for two years between 2007 and 2009, before he returned to South Africa and also played for Middelsex, so he knows his way around the English circuit. "Playing in England means I have an idea of what to expect in different conditions," he said. "I will try and bank on a bit of experience I have got from playing county cricket here in the past and take that going forward."
That know-how could be most beneficial in pressure situations, which have been South Africa's undoing in previous tournaments. At the most recent one, the World Twenty20 in Sri Lanka last year, bowling towards the end of an innings was considered one of the major problems (the middle order, as ever, was the other).
Since Rusty Theron's injury, they have lacked a container at the end and have now tasked McLaren with stepping into that role. He has been working with Allan Donald on perfecting the yorker and has worked on a strategy for limiting runs at the tail end of an innings.
"With the new format of having four players out makes it tough as a death bowler," McLaren said. "You want to try and adopt as much of an attacking mindset as possible. If you are just going to try and defend especially on the slower wickets here, you are going to be found out as a death bowler. There's no point being predictable, we've seen in the IPL how guys hit the ball at the end of an innings."
That too, is McLaren's job. South Africa's lack of a lower-order finisher is another cause for concern in big events and if he can get that right, McLaren will set himself apart from some of the other allrounders that have come through.
As for Kallis, the only thing McLaren wants to take from him is inspiration because he knows taking his place is not an option. "As far as Jacques is concerned, I would maybe focus on taking a lot of advice and asking a lot of questions about the game to find out what may work in these conditions and in the different disciplines of being an allrounder."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent