Saving Private Ryan

It’s a hard thing for most of us to imagine – choosing a virtually guaranteed financial security over the opportunity to become to represent your country and, potentially, become a national hero.

That was the choice facing Ryan McLaren a couple of months ago when he received a belated phone call from South Africa asking him whether he would consider opting out of his English county contract with Kent and become available for South Africa.

The obvious reaction for any employee, in any position and any occupation, would be to ask “will I be better off.” Why should it be any different for a professional cricketer? It may be different for a struggling young provincial player who is offered the chance of international glory, but if he was a struggling young provincial player then he probably wouldn’t be offered the chance.

But Ryan McLaren has been an established match-winner for Kent for a couple of years and was – still is, in fact – on a lucrative contract which recognises his talent and the financial worth it can bring to Kent County Cricket Club. For him to say ‘no thanks’ and throw his future back into control of Cricket South Africa’s hands takes some commitment and courage.

Or does it? After all, his ‘future’ is in his own hands, literally. Whether he is holding a bat or ball, what he does will shape his future.

The bare basics of the matter are this – his contract with Kent is worth a little more than twice what he can expect to earn from basic match fees by fulfilling a lifelong dream and playing for his country. No wonder he asked for a minimal ‘C’ contract from CSA which would have, at least, given him a guaranteed 50% of his Kent contract.

But CSA – and the players, represented by SACA – all felt that national contracts should be earned, not handed out like party packs for children who had decided to ‘do the right thing.’ Paul Harris, for example, gave up his contract with Warwickshire in order to play for South Africa and he was given absolutely no guarantees – except that he would play. But he would have to prove himself.

And McLaren will have to prove himself. He will play in both ODI series against Kenya and Bangladesh in the coming months and then in the two Test matches against Bangladesh. It is very hard to imagine him doing anything to warrant exclusion from the team during that time, which would naturally lead to a place in the squad in the squad for Australia at the end of the year. With the greatest of respect to Andre Nel, the prospect of all rounder McLaren at number eight would add significant balance to the starting XI.

McLaren’s agent, former WP chief executive Arthur Turner, worked hard to secure the best deal for his client when approached by CSA. He was right to ask for a contract and he was right to point out how much his client was turning down. And CSA was right to say ‘no’ to guarantees for unproven international players.

If McLaren is as good as most people think he is, then he will easily match the worth of his Kent contract. If he plays in a predominantly winning team, as he should, then he will earn more. If he really shines, he will earn an IPL contract and could come close to doubling his salary. It’s that stark. Keep it really comfortable, risk losing most of it, or take a punt on doubling it.

The fact that Ryan McLaren has chosen to back his talent and ability in pursuit of his childhood dream should be recognised and applauded by every cricket lover in the country, and should he stumble at first, he deserves respect, patience and appreciation. Because he’s good enough to make all of us proud and he’s made a decision that most of us would have ducked.

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