ROWAN, ERIC ALFRED BURCHELL, the South African Test player and elder brother of, Athol, died on April 30, 1993, in Johannesburg, aged 83. Eric Rowan ranked with Dudley Nourse and Bruce Mitchell in the very forefront of Test batsman from South Africa in the years before and after the Second World War. His long career (1929-30 to 1953-54) was spiced by controversy.
He was always fearless - he sometimes batted without gloves and, so it was said, box - and not only as a batsman. He was small and wiry and cocky and feisty and contemptuous of authority. Having been left out of the 1947 tour of England because of personality clashes, he was chosen in 1951, as vice-captain, when he often had to lead the team because Nourse was injured, and dominated the tour.
Rowan, who played all his first-class cricket in South Africa for Transvaal, except for one season with Eastern Province, was a regular opener, occasionally going in at No. 3. He was a right-handed bat without much elegance, but with all the strokes. His maiden century came a year after his debut and by 1935 he was a natural choice to tour England. He made his Test debut at Trent Bridge and played throughout South Africa's successful series, though he did better outside the Tests, scoring 1,948 on the tour. Wisden was a little surprised: "He did not bat either with dignity or precision; he regarded his cricket in most light-hearted style, but his confidence was amazing."
Rowan lost some of that confidence against the Australians in 1935-36, when Grimmett took his wicket five times out of six until he was dropped. And he struggled for form in some of the seasons before the war until he scored 306 not out against Natal in a first-class friendly in 1939-40, which stood as the highest score made in South Africa until 1993-94. As soon as non-competitive first-class cricket was resumed, he almost scored another triple-century, hitting 284 for Eastern Province against Griqualand West in 1945-46.
His non-selection for the 1947 tour was baffling, except in terms of character. But he was recalled when Nourse took over the captaincy from Melville and scored 156 not out to save the Test at Ellis Park in 1948-49, after the selectors had announced that he was dropped for the next Test. He batted six hours and reputedly found time to give the selectors a V-sign. He said he was giving the V for Victory; told that it was the wrong way round the supposedly replied: "That depends what part of the ground you're sitting."
He was soon restored, though it was said his relations with Nourse were strained, and he got better and better. He made 277 not out for Transvaal against Griqualand West in 1950-51, then the highest Currie Cup score, and scored 176 before lunch against Rhodesia. He averaged 109 that season. But even in triumph he found trouble. He was one of Wisden's Five for his achievement in England in 1951. But, early on the tour, he and John Waite were slow handclapped by the crowd at Old Trafford during the Lancashire match.
They sat down until there was quiet and later Rowan was involved in a scuffle in the pavilion. He was not picked for Australia in 1952-53 though, at 43, he was still in prime form; that, however, applied both to his batting and his effing and blinding at officialdom. In his 26 Tests he scored 1,965 runs and averaged 43.66; he scored 11,710 first-class runs at 48.58, including 30 centuries. He played for Jeppe Old Boys until he was 51 and continued working for schools cricket, though his later years were blighted by great pain after an accident when he fell in a hot bath. He bore that bravely too.