Top Performer - Ryan McLaren

Home or away?

Ryan McLaren is a player with a bright future. The question is with which country? He joined Kent for this season on a Kolpak deal, but at 24 now has a career-defining decision to make

Andrew McGlashan

August 8, 2007

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Ryan McLaren (left) celebrates winning the Twenty20 with Robert Key © Getty Images
Ryan McLaren has a bright future. The question is, with which country? He joined Kent for this season on a Kolpak deal, but at 24 now has a career-defining decision to make. Does he opt to pursue international honours in his home country, South Africa, or follow the path taken by Kevin Pietersen and Jonathan Trott and try to qualify for England?

His talent would boost either country, especially in the limited-overs arena, as he proved at Edgbaston on Saturday. His hat-trick in the Twenty20 final against Gloucestershire showed his talent to a wide audience, but those around Kent have known there's something special about him since he signed for the current season.

McLaren is a powerful, hit-the-deck bowler capable of swinging the ball at decent pace, and he didn't need any help with his three in three. Hamish Marshall, who was well set on 65, chopped onto his stumps, Stephen Adshead was bowled by one which held its line and Ian Fisher was trapped in front by a full delivery. It was the fifth hat-trick in English Twenty20 (the ninth worldwide) and the first in a final.

In the semi-final McLaren was only needed for two of his allotted four overs, yet still made a vital contribution. When he came on, Sussex were racing along at 60 without loss, but he removed Chris Nash and Kent turned the match around. And it wasn't only with the ball where McLaren excelled. On a day of high-class fielding he produced one of the highlights as he swooped at midwicket, spun back on himself, and made a direct hit to take the key wicket of Chris Adams in the semi final. Moments like that can change Twenty20 matches.

McLaren also held three vital catches, the first to remove the tournament's lead run-scorer, Luke Wright, then two impressive efforts at third man to restrict Sussex's tail-end slogging. One-day cricket has often been won in the field and McLaren provided another prime example. His batting didn't fire on the day, but he possesses fearsome power and a first-class average of 29 shows his all-round potential.

McLaren has impressed everyone at Kent, but now has to decide on his future © Getty Images
All this would appear to make McLaren's decision a no-brainer. Take the experience of a year in county cricket back with him to South Africa and it won't be long (less than the four years it would take to qualify for England) before he is knocking on the door of the South African side. The selectors back home have noted his talent and he was mentioned in dispatches when South Africa were in Ireland during June.

If McLaren opts to head home he could still return to England as full overseas player. But it isn't quite so simple. He is the latest young cricketer to not have complete faith in the South African system, who feels a four-year gamble might be worth the risk rather than trying for honours back home, and may opt to play as an overseas player for the Eagles instead.

What makes this slightly odd is that one of his mentors is Allan Donald, who lived and breathed for his country. Donald was playing for Free State when McLaren made his first moves into domestic cricket, and Donald also suggested McLaren should head over to Birmingham for some league cricket.

McLaren spent time with the Edgbaston ground staff while playing for Knowle and Dorridge, but despite a couple of second team matches, he couldn't pick up a contract with Warwickshire. Graham Ford, Kent's director of cricket, then spotted him and he was quickly snapped up. There is a three-year deal on the table with Kent, but much more is at stake for McLaren. The next move will also decide the rest of his career.

What he said
"The opportunity of playing county cricket has been great. But at 24, international cricket is my aspiration. I have to make important decisions but at the moment I'm not going to disclose them."

What they said
"Ryan is a serious athlete. He can bowl and bat and is a serious find for us. Let's hope he stays because he can be at Kent for a long time. Everyone has seen what a great cricketer he is, and he deserves some international recognition."
Robert Key

Andrew McGlashan is a staff writer on Cricinfo

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Andrew McGlashan Assistant Editor Andrew arrived at ESPNcricinfo via Manchester and Cape Town, after finding the assistant editor at a weak moment as he watched England's batting collapse in the Newlands Test. Andrew began his cricket writing as a freelance covering Lancashire during 2004 when they were relegated in the County Championship. In fact, they were top of the table when he began reporting on them but things went dramatically downhill. He likes to let people know that he is a supporter of county cricket, a fact his colleagues will testify to and bemoan in equal quantities.
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