Archie MacLaren

Archie MacLaren, born December 1, 1871, was a former England right-hand opening batsman who was considered as one of the finest batsmen of his era. Gifted with an agile footwork, he was an accomplished hooker. He was equally capable of playing the drive, be it through square or the covers. Having a high back lift, MacLaren was one of the quickest scorers of his age and exuded great power in his shots. In full flow, he had an alluring brio on the cricket field in the 1890s. On his birth anniversary, Bhaskar Narayan scans through 10 interesting facts about one of the greatest opening batsmen from England.

1.  Privileged birth: Archie MacLaren was born in Wahalley Range, an area in the metropolitan borough of Manchester, England. His father James, a cricket aficionado himself was a cotton trader. James was honorary treasurer to the Lancashire team for 19 years ending 1900. Archie was second of his seven sons. Being an ardent cricket follower himself, James inspired his children to take up cricket. He sent Archie and his elder brother James for training in the game to the then famous Elstree School. During offs, Archie’s father used to teach cricket basics to his son by making him bat against qualified bowlers.

2.  Impressive First-Class debut: MacLaren made his First-Class debut in 1890 for Lancashire at Hove. It was a dream debut as he hammered 108 within two hours against Sussex. The notable aspect of his knock was that it was played on a deceptive track where the ball was doing a lot. He went on to represent his county in 424 matches accumulating 22,236 runs at an average of 34.15 with the help of 47 centuries and 95 fifties.

3.  First to crack quadruple century in First-Class cricket: In a match against Somerset in 1895, MacLaren blazed his way to a mammoth 424 helping Lancashire record an innings victory. He remained the only batsman to have cracked a quadruple hundred in England for 93 years until Graeme Hick equalled him with an unbeaten 405 in 1988. However, his 424 was still unbroken. Six years hence, Brian Lara surpassed it with his knock of 501 at Edgbaston, Birmingham.

4.  Cynicism: MacLaren was often criticised for not looking at the brighter side of things. He often hesitated in taking risks and was just overly pragmatic at times. He lacked imaginative thought which led him to not take well-measured gambles in which possibility of success was high. This made it difficult for him to envision better probabilities. In a match at Old Trafford in 1902, he asked Fred Tata to field at deep square leg removing the slips. Tata was always stationed in the slips in his career but MacLaren’s too defencive mindset made him think otherwise. Tata dropped a catch and this became the turning point of the game.

MacLaren captained England in four series against Australia starting from 1899 but failed to take England to victory in any of them. He led England in 22 Tests, winning only four but losing 11 of them. He was also not good in putting his point forth. He was the one who brought Sydney Barnes to First-Class cricket but was not able to convince Lancashire selectors of Barnes’ genius. Another instance of his cynical view was felt in a 1907 match against Middlesex, where he asked the authorities to abandon the match because the pitch was damaged by the public. Next morning, when the pitch was rolled it was found perfect for play. In a Test at The Oval in 1909, he picked John Sharp over a fast bowler even though the pitch was very good for fast bowling. He felt that a slow bowler should be in the side, just in case. He also took Barnes off the attack when the scoreboard read 9 for 1; he lacked killer instinct.

5.  Sophisticated cricketing mind: During his captaincy, in spite of all his cynicism, MacLaren was considered one of the best when it came to judging the minute details of the game, building strategy and executing it to perfection. Although his cynical approach did create problems for England, still Maclaren’s in-depth knowledge about the game saw them through sometimes. In 1904, he helped Lancashire remain unbeaten the entire season. In one of the matches against Yorkshire his decision to ask Yorkshire to bat first helped avert defeat in a benefit match. In 1921, he made a prognostication that the English have the ability to beat the then invincible Australian side. He handpicked 11 novice cricketers and defeated Australia by 28 runs.

6.  Served as the Secretary of KS Ranjitsinhji: MacLaren was plagued by some financial issues during the latter part of his career. For many years he worked as the private secretary to KS Ranjitsinhji, great English batsman who was also king of the princely state of Nawanagar, India.  Due to his engagements with his new employer, he got little time to focus on cricket. Ranjitsinhji lived a lavish life in England and his bills often ran in many pounds. MacLaren, on some occasions attempted to not let Ranjitsinhji pay. An artist was not paid for her work and she filed a lawsuit in India Office. MacLaren tried to stop her and was dubbed by India Office as ‘Ranjitsinh’s ridiculous private secretary.’ It is believed Ranjitsinhji once saved him from the court’s wrath after he was found guilty of not paying his house rent. He went to the United Sates with Ranjitsinhji’s team in 1899. He quit the job later but went with Ranjitsinhji for a vacation to India.

7.  Multiple hats: MacLaren ventured in to business by opening a hotel which unfortunately failed to give good dividends. He also launched a magazine but failed miserably. He then tried selling cricket gear. He was often blamed for being a spendthrift. He also worked as a teacher and tried his hand in journalism for some time.

8.  Coaching: MacLaren coached Lancashire in 1922. His coaching was very disciplinarian and he put tremendous pressure on the players to perform. On the flip side, he was always there for his players and motivated them whenever the need arose. He was named skipper by MCC during the tour to New Zealand as he was familiar with the younger cricketers. This came to be his final First-Class match. MacLaren made a brilliant double hundred but injured his knee and hence was ruled out from rest of the tour. On his return, MacLaren asked for a raise but Lancashire cricket officials rejected it. They later ended his bond saying his knee injury will not allow him to render his services with full vigour.

9.  Later life: MacLaren, owing to his prodigal approach suffered from finacial issues in his final years. His wife’s earnings kept the home alive. He worked as a coach to add to his wife’s wages. Later, his wife inherited a huge amount which enabled the couple to buy some property, thus helping him live a plush life he always longed for. He played an extra in the Hollywood movie ‘The Four Feathers’ which also starred fellow cricketer Aubrey Smith. In his final days, he got injured in a car accident and also battled cancer. He died on November 17, 1944 at the ripe age of 72.

10.  Shares his birthday with Mike Denness: MacLaren shares his birthday with former English batsman Mike Denness, who was a three-year-old at the time of MacLaren’s passing. One of the inventors of reverse swing Sarfraz Nawaz and former Sri Lankan captain Arjuna Ranatunga were also born on the same day.

(Bhaskar Narayan is a reporter at CricketCountry and Criclife. He passionately follows the game and is a big fan of Sachin Tendulkar. His Twitter handle is @Cricopathy)