Harare - Zimbabwe’s second city has always had a bit of an inferiority complex. Bulawayo is smaller, less populated and a great deal quieter than the capital Harare, and can at times resemble an abandoned town from a western movie, what with the empty, wide streets.
Bulawayo’s streets were famously modelled so that the early settlers could turn a team of oxen around without having to back them up, and the fact that they have maintained their width says everything about the lack of progress in the city.
For the majority of his international career, Ryan McLaren has had something of an inferiority complex.
In an age when the number of genuine seam-bowling all-rounders has declined worldwide, McLaren just happened to come through in the country boasting one of the greatest such players of all time.
It’s tough to get much recognition when Jacques Kallis is the yardstick by which you are measured. “You can’t compare me to Jacques Kallis - that’s like comparing a Citi Golf to a Rolls-Royce,” McLaren memorably said in December.
McLaren’s debut for South Africa came in a one-day international against Zimbabwe in Benoni five years ago, not surprisingly in a game that Kallis missed. The 31-year-old has now played in 16 of South Africa’s last 18 ODIs, but alongside Kallis in only five of those.
That said, McLaren played all three ODIs alongside Kallis in Sri Lanka last month, proving he had already stepped out of the legend’s shadow by the time Kallis announced that his World Cup dream really was just a dream.
McLaren finished that series as the highest wicket-taker from either side, claiming nine wickets for 118 runs in 24 overs.
A quick unbeaten 22 in the first match was also a handy contribution in a 75-run victory.
In the past year he has averaged under 20 with the ball and almost 28 with the bat.
Whereas Kallis was a batsman who added a bowling option, McLaren has graduated to a level where he merits a place in the side for his bowling but also offers some extra batting.
Such is the extent to which McLaren has become his own man that he will effectively lead the attack in the three ODIs against Zimbabwe in Bulawayo, which begin on Sunday.
Dale Steyn, Morné Morkel and Vernon Philander have all been rested, but McLaren is no longer seen as a greenhorn who only steps in for these sort of situations, as evidenced when coach Russell Domingo was discussing the attack for the series.
“I think we have a great opportunity to play some younger bowlers who haven’t played a lot of one-day cricket for us recently,” Domingo said. “Kyle Abbott is one, Wayne Parnell has been in and out, we can have a look at Marchant de Lange again, (Mthokozisi) Shezi has got a call-up. So it’s great to have a look at what we have outside of the current group.”
In fact, if anyone is going to be subjected to comparisons with Kallis in this series it is Faf du Plessis, who seems likely to be asked to fill the hole at No 3.
Meanwhile, Rilee Rossouw will earn his first international cap if any of the batsmen are rested or injured, having replaced Kallis in the squad.
“It’s obviously exciting to get a new young batter like Rilee Rossouw into the group,” said Domingo. “I think it’s always important to get some fresh players into the side so I’m very excited to work with them.”