South Africa v Pakistan, 1st ODI, Bloemfontein March 8, 2013

A bigger battle ahead for McLaren


Barring a few minor tweaks, the squad Gary Kirsten has for the current series against Pakistan is the one that will represent South Africa in the Champions Trophy in June. As a result, almost everyone in that unit knows they are not playing for their place but to enhance their skills and accumulate match practice. Almost.

Ryan McLaren is one of those who is not.

As the current first-choice allrounder, McLaren is likely to compete with Jacques Kallis for a spot in a major tournament XI and it does not take a rocket scientist to know who will win that battle. It puts McLaren in a tricky position because, although it may not be as harsh as him clinging on by his fingernails, it could get there.

Kallis does not play bilateral one-day series anymore as part of his management programme. Kirsten said after 18 years of service that is a more than acceptable concession. But Kallis wants an ICC medal as much as the next South African cricketer, so management remain "in negotiation" with him for the Champions Trophy and the World Cup.

Whether he will be at either of those events will depend on his fitness after the IPL and his own willingness. If he makes himself available and his body agrees, Kallis will definitely be part of the squad. McLaren will not be discarded completely but he may be an understudy. He remains the ODI all-rounder and all indications are that he will be given a fair run.

Like Robin Peterson did when he was offered an extended rope, McLaren will have to do something with that to keep ahead of the likes of Chris Morris, who is emerging as another option at bay. Currently, one of the only things to choose between them is experience and McLaren's is more valuable in time than numbers.

His international record reads like that of a bit-part all-rounder. Ideally, he would like his batting and bowling statistics swapped around. In 16 matches over the last four years, McLaren averages 10.66 with willow and 32.52 with leather. His most memorable performance was probably only one moment long - the one in which he hit James Franklin for six off the last ball to win the third ODI against New Zealand in January in a series that South Africa had already lost.

Domestically, McLaren has enjoyed far greater success. In 132 List A matches, he has scored eight half-centuries and averages 32.57. He has taken 157 wickets at 27.56 and is known for his dependability above everything.

Noble a quality as that is, it is also forgettable because it is overshadowed by exciting talents who produce dramatic performances. McLaren knows that he has to come with a few of those in this series. "We know that when we go to the Champions Trophy, we will try and take the strongest squad available so there are a few guys in this team that want to try and cement a place in the side and put their hand up to make sure they go along," he said, distancing himself from the obviousness of who those players are.

Batting at No.7 and bowling behind the likes of Dale Steyn, Morne Morkel, Lonwabo Tsotsobe and Kyle Abbott may not give McLaren much opportunity but there will be a role for him to play. South Africa's middle order is notoriously soft and often leaves it to the end for something to happen. A quickfire 15 or 20 runs are not immediately classed as valuable but when they prove the difference between two sides, they are exactly that.

To that end, McLaren has been preparing for ways to break free with the bat, especially against the Pakistan attack. "Their strength is in their spinners and our preparation has been specifically focused on how we are going to play their spinners," he said.

In the bowling department, South Africa have lacked at the death but also appear to freeze when confronted with a batsman who has had the confidence to take control. Martin Guptill in the festive Twenty20 against New Zealand and Kane Williamson in the ODI series which followed are classic examples, as is Mohammad Hafeez's 86 in the Centurion T20.

For much of Hafeez's innings it looked as though the better he got, the more South Africa's bowlers allowed themselves to shrink away. No-one could come up with the breakthrough and it took a bizarre of hit wicket to end his knock. Guptill and Williamson were both unbeaten because South Africa could not apply sufficient pressure.

McLaren said there has been much introspection from the attack in the aftermath. "There has been reflection. As bowlers, we got together and had a chat about what we learnt and what we felt we could improve on. It's an on-going process, every game is about building for the Champions Trophy." And for McLaren, it will be about ensuring he is part of the group that travels there.

Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondent

Comments have now been closed for this article

  • Faan on March 11, 2013, 7:01 GMT

    @bestbuddy Well said, what is going on with these articles?

  • Marlon on March 9, 2013, 14:48 GMT

    where is Albie Morkel..?? Sorry to say.. Proteas are not using him properly.. :(

  • NASIR on March 9, 2013, 10:53 GMT

    my playing 11 for pakistan. nasir jamshed,hafeez,younus ,asad shafique ,misbah,k,amaran akmal,afridai,gul ,junaid,ajmal,wahab riaz.

  • USMAN on March 9, 2013, 9:17 GMT

    Pak team should play like previous match with high confidence and moral. They have the ability to beat the best eleven.Pakistan concern is all about batting,whether adding a more bat is good for them. Mclaren is a good choice.

  • greig on March 9, 2013, 8:41 GMT

    Posted by Msizi Cele on (March 8, 2013, 19:21 GMT) 1. smith 2. Amla 3. Kallis 4. De villiers 5. Du plessis 6. Duminy 7. Albie morkel 8. Peterson 9. Steyn 10. Morkel 11. Tsotsobe Please no more behardien, miller, mcclaren - enough underperformers The bench can have de Lange, Phangiso and Ingram and maybe de Kock.

    I couldnt have said it better myself. My thoughts exactly, I'm fed up of seeing these players in Protea colours. We have so much better talent around, its a joke.

  • Khawaja on March 9, 2013, 6:45 GMT

    i agree with msizi cele however i donot think albir morkel has the talents he had earlier for teh position..i would put de kcock at 7 as there are enough bowlers in teh team...albie's big hitting was great earlier but u could bring in a Levi at that position too or a henry david or an in form big hitter

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2013, 6:21 GMT

    would love to see this team walk out for the first championstrophy game, 1, Smith 2, Amla 3, Kallis 4, de Villiers 5. de Plessis 6, Duminy 7, Morkel/morris/mclaren/peterson 8, Peterson 9, Steyn, 10, Morkel 11, Tstostobe

    if peterson batted 7, id have an abbot in at 8 or tahir has a second spinner. if they are taking an 18 man squad and assume albie morkel is 7 the bench players to go with would be,

    1, Morris 2, Mclaren 3, de Kock 4, de Lange 5, Abbott 6, Tahir 7, Ingram

    Ingram could bat anywhere, and if we are 100% confident we could get 10 overs out of kallis and duminy for less than 50 runs then it would be a straight shott between de Kock and ingram, but id go for ingram to give de Villiers and break and also his ability to hit, and bat between 1-7

  • Dummy4 on March 9, 2013, 2:36 GMT

    It's a stretch to say McLaren and Kallis are competing for the same position. If Ryan was gunna, he woulda by now.

    Smith, Amla, JK, AB, Faf, JP, Quinton de Kock, Peterson (maybe Tahir?), Steyn, De Lange, Morkel

  • Patrick on March 8, 2013, 22:44 GMT

    Kallis already has an ICC winners medal:

  • des on March 8, 2013, 19:54 GMT

    @Msizi Cele - That's a great team and has 5 seam bowlers and two spinners. Someone like Albie can have expensive days with the ball, but there are Kallis and Duminy to take over if that happens. Much better team than the one that will be selected, I bet Behardien plays again.

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