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Barlow was one of the most popular players of his generation, and never gave less than his all as an obdurate opening batsman, an aggressive medium-pacer and a superb slip field. His spectacles and stout build earned him the nickname "Bunter", owing to his physical resemblance to Billy Bunter.
In his Test career he scored 2561 runs at 45, with a highest score of 201 against Australia at Adelaide in 1963-64, and also took 40 wickets and 34.05 apiece. His best bowing of 5 for 85 also came against Australia, at Cape Town, in 1966-67.
During the Test at Adelaide in 1963-64 he added 341 for the third wicket with Graeme Pollock as South Africa won by 10 wickets, Barlow being unbeaten on 47 in the second innings. Five of his six Test centuries came against the Australians, plus 33 of his 40 wickets. He was part of the golden era of South African cricket, forming a formidable side with the likes of Graeme and Peter Pollock, Denis Lindsay and Mike Procter. However, Barlow, as with so many South African players, had his international career cut short by apartheid shortly after they had beaten Australia 4-0.
Barlow continued to play for Western Province and also had two stints in county cricket with Derbyshire. He ended his first-class career in 1982-83 with Boland and after his retirement he was a liberal voice in the conservative South African political establishment of the 1980s. He became a respected coach at provincial level, never without a theory that he said would lead to brighter cricket, and was appointed Bangladesh coach in 1999. However, a stroke in 2000 left him paralysed and he moved to north Wales where, despite his disabilities, he continued to coach locally.