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March 12, 2013
They did the job emphatically and bowled England out for under 200 twice to ensure South Africa won by an innings and 74 runs. The nature of the victory may suggest McLaren played some sort of role but his was a bit-part.
In the shadows of Dale Steyn taking a first innings five-for and seven overall, Morne Morkel finishing with the same match tally and Wayne Parnell debuting, McLaren bowled 13 overs all told and took one wicket. It was an important one because it was that of the top scorer, Paul Collingwood and it was brief glimpse into McLaren's ability.
For four years, there would be only those short, somewhat stolen moments because McLaren never nailed down a proper spot. Now, that could change. After receiving his second CSA contract McLaren knows he is being primed for a Test recall - something that's been in the back of his mind for a long time.
"I'd love to add to my one Test cap," he told ESPNcricinfo. "It's something I've been thinking about and working towards very hard." McLaren averaged 50.50 with the bat and 30.67 with the ball last season and has been included in South African recent A sides and limited-overs teams.
He would bring to the Test XI a Shaun Pollock-like discipline and consistency as well as the ability to score runs in the lower middle-order. While it would seem only Kallis' retirement would open a door for McLaren, he may not have to wait for that to make an appearance in whites. South Africa's revolving door position - the No. 7 spot - is the only unsettled one and he could fill it. It has been used for an extra batsman so far but it could call for an extra bowler or an allrounder in future.
Until then, McLaren has to bide his time in the other formats where he is finally being given a sustained run of matches. Prior to August 2012, McLaren had played 10 ODIs and five Twenty20s for South Africa but not much faith was invested in him. Albie Morkel was the preferred candidate and assembly line allrounders were fading out of fashion.
McLaren became a substitute and was included in squads when there was a mild injury concern. Almost everyone knew that he was unlikely to play and he never did. Only recently, has team management seen real value in him.
In recent months, McLaren has been seen in long consultation with Allan Donald as he worked on extensively on his bowling. The fruits of that have been obvious and he has taken 11 wickets in his last four ODIs. His use of the short ball has been exemplary, something he puts down to Donald's influence. "Allan always encourages us to be more aggressive and that's what I've been trying to do as well," he said.
As good performances mounted up, confidence in him swelled. McLaren now feels more secure as well. "I've been given a few more opportunities and I feel a bit more comfortable in the environment," he said. "I'm just really enjoying it now under Gary Kirsten. He treats us all like adults and make us take responsibility for our own performances."
McLaren has always come across as mature and grounded, so much so that he would be happy to make way for Kallis at an event like the Champions Trophy because "it's good for South Africa if Kallis plays as long as he can," so it's no surprise he is thriving in a grown-up environment. At 30, he is exactly that and hopes to have a few good years to offer South African cricket.
McLaren has built up experience around the world, including a stint at Kent and at the Mumbai Indians and Kings XI Punjab. This off-season, he will return to the IPL to represent the Kolkata Knight Riders and hopes to pick up new skills to take into his re-born international career. "It's always helpful to play in different conditions and to share dressing rooms with players from around the world. I just want to learn as much as possible."
Firdose Moonda is ESPNcricinfo's South Africa correspondentFeeds: Firdose Moonda
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