That the South African tour of England in 1951 resulted in the Springboks taking home a record profit of £17,500 instead of meeting with financial catastrophe was due almost solely to one man, Eric Alfred Burchell Rowan. Except for occasional matches, he literally carried the side in batting. Furthermore, he stamped his tenacious personality wherever he appeared.
Rowan, who was born at Johannesburg on July 20, 1909, abounds with the confidence which usually accompanies superb physical fitness. Besides cricket, he has played soccer, rugby and squash racquets and is a teetotaller and non-smoker. His belief in his own abilities--and in those of the men he leads when he is captain--often appears to border on cheekiness, and at times his exuberant personality has brought him into conflict with the higher powers, but, whatever the reasons for any such disagreements, no one could dispute his worth as a cricketer.
Educated at Jeppe High School, where many other fine cricketers also received their early training, Rowan learned the game from his father in the garden of their home. His father advised him: "Keep your eye on the ball and when you hit it, hit it hard." This Rowan has always remembered. English spectators in 1951 did not often see him in free scoring mood, but he is happier when attacking.
Concentration is the keynote of Rowan's batting, but he can entertain. He has an easy stance, and is quick on his feet. The leg-glance is one of his best strokes and the chop or true cut through slips in another of his favorite methods of scoring. Rowan drives fearlessly and fluently against the fastest bowlers, pulls powerfully, and has the knack of impudently spooning strokes from off-spin bowlers safely over the heads of the leg-trap. In any position he is a first-rate fieldsman, despite having broken his right arm when young. He bowls with the new ball for his club, his school Old Boys' team of which he is captain, and can turn his fingers to spin when necessary.
Because of the injury to Nourse, Rowan was given many opportunies to show his worth as a captain in England in 1951 and he proved himself to be quick-witted and shrewd, although hard. When setting a field, attack is the first though in his mind, with batsmen allowed as little scope as possible to play scoring strokes. Often he will move a man, not to stop a stroke, but to set the batsman wondering about any likely trap.
Rowan has always been a heavy scorer. From his school-days, when he was coached by a master, Arthur Childe, he made swift progress into inter-provincial cricket, being chosen for Transvaal against A. P. F. Chapman's M.C.C. team in the 1930-31 tour. In 1935 he achieved his main ambition by entry into Test cricket with H. F. Wade's side in England. Since then he has played in 26 Tests and his 236 against England at Leeds last summer stands as the record individual Test score by a South African.
Other records belonging to Rowan are the highest inter-provincial (friendly) score of 306 not out for Transvaal against Natal in 1939-40 and the Currie Cup highest of 277 not out for Transvaal against Griqualand West in 1950-51. Under his captaincy, Transvaal that season won the Currie Cup.
Rowan did not make an auspicious start to his Test career. Although leading scorer on the 1935 tour with 1,948 runs in first-class matches, he made only 246 in 10 Test innings. Against V. Y. Richardson's Australian team of 1935-36 his highest Test score was only 66, but in 1938-39, against W. R. Hammond's touring side, he did better with 284 in seven innings (top score 89 not out).
The war, in which he served in an Armoured Car Regiment and rose to a lieutenant, interrupted his cricket, but afterwards he found the place in the best grade of cricket so long predicted for him. In the two Test series against F. G. Mann's team of 1948-49 and A. L. Hassett's Australian side the following season, Rowan was second only to Nourse in the averages. In four Tests against Mann's team his figures were 53.16 with a highest score of 156 not out, and against Australia his average was 44.88. In one innings he hit 143.
Rowan, who was omitted from A. Melville's 1947 side to England, did not start the 1951 Test series well, but after five comparative failures he found his best form. A score of 57 in the second innings at Manchester restored his confidence as the England bowlers found at Leeds where he batted for over nine hours for his 236 and altogether made 296 for once out.
In the Fifth Test at The Oval, Rowan scored exactly 100 in two innings. His final Test figures were 515 for an average of 57.22--better than that of any Englishman in the series--and his season's aggregate in first-class matches was 1,852, average 50.55. Altogether in good class cricket, Rowan has scored over 50,000 runs.
Rowan's third Christian name of Burchell perpetuates the memory of his great grandfather, the noted South African explorer and naturalist. By profession Rowan is a representative of a printing firm and a free-lance journalist. He has two brothers, and one, Athol Matthew Burchell, twelve years his junior, has been considered by many people the best off-spin bowler in post-war cricket. When a private in the Transvaal Scottish Regiment, Athol was captured at Tobruk, but escaped. Then he joined the R.A.F. and, while on an officers' course, received a serious knee injury from a mortar. Not only did this mishap severely handicap him while bowling; it also brought to a premature end his cricket career. -- H.G.