Brilliant but inconsistent cricketer
Friday 14 September 2007
Roy Alastair McLean, cricketer: born Pietermaritzburg, South Africa 9 July 1930; married (two daughters); died Johannesburg 26 August 2007.
Roy McLean was a dashing middle-order right-hand batsman who in 40 Test matches for South Africa bordered on greatness. His arrival at the crease meant newspapers were folded and books closed, while small boys dropped bats and balls and greeted him with whistles. Don Bradman was reported to have said of him, "When he plays well no one can hold him. He can score off anyone", but John Arlott commented, in 1961, "(He) produced the occasional glorious innings, but such brilliance is rarely, if ever, married to consistency". McLean failed to score in 11 of his 73 Test innings.
Like so many young white South Africans of his time, McLean's schooling (Hilton College) and upbringing ensured he became outstanding at cricket, rugby and hockey. At 19 he was playing first-class for Natal, joining Dudley Nourse, later to be his Test captain, in some prolific partnerships. Two years later, he made his début for South Africa in the 1951 series against England. In the third Test at Old Trafford, he batted at number seven (chosen very much as the young man feeling his way) and showed considerable promise with his fielding in the deep.
He scored 20 and 19, in his country's totals of 158 and 191, against a powerful England attack, and was run out for 67 in the fourth Test at Leeds in a high-scoring draw, 50 of his runs coming from boundaries as he drove through defensive fields. The innings for which he will be best remembered came in the tour of Australia the following year when, with the series at 2-2, Australia reached 520 in their first innings.
South Africa were eventually set 295, McLean having scored 81 in the first innings, and at 191-4 the rubber was in the balance. "Don't worry," McLean told his captain Jack Cheetham as he went in to bat, and his 76 not out helped bring a resounding four-wicket victory. Back in England in 1955 he finished second to Jackie McGlew in the averages and hit a memorable 142 (out of 304) at Lord's on a lively pitch against an England team containing Brian Statham and Fred Trueman, although catches were missed.
His impetuous play caused him to be dropped twice for series at home but back in England in 1960, he scored 207 at 50 an hour in the opening tour match at Worcester, 109 out of 229 in a rain-restricted Test at Old Trafford and the fastest century of the summer, in 75 minutes, after making six in the first half-hour, at Hastings. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1961. His Test career average, over 13 years, was 30.28, the figure a poor reflection of the brilliance of his batting. Colin Cowdrey remembered him as "a superb strokemaker, a cutter and hooker of tremendous power. Whenever he was at the crease cricket was never dull. He was also a beautiful and versatile fielder."
Australian rugby fans will also remember him as Natal's fly-half when the Wallabies were beaten 15-14 by his late drop goal in 1953. McLean had one further claim to history: in 1961 he captained an unofficial touring team to England known as the Fezelas, a cricket side that included eight future Test players, including Eddie Barlow, Colin Bland and Peter Pollock, who were to become the foundation of South Africa's magnificent teams of the 1970s, glorious talent hidden from world cricket by South Africa's exclusion because of apartheid.
McLean's colourful sporting career ended in 1966 when he retired to sell insurance.
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