Archie MacLaren was regarded as the finest batsman in England and still holds the Lancashire individual batting record for his 424 against Somerset.
ARCHIBALD CAMPBELL MACLAREN was born in Whalley Range, Manchester on 1 December 1871, a true Lancastrian who moved out to attend Elstree School in London and then Harrow.
His first match at Lord's came at the age of 15 when he played against Eton and scored 55 out of 101 in the first innings and 67 out of 204 in the second. His father, as he always did, had given Archie two weeks' practice with professionals before going to school for the summer term. In fact, Archie thought his father would have preferred him to get in the cricket team than do well academically.
He made his debut and scored his first century for Lancashire when he was 18, he played for the Gentlemen against the Players when he was 21, was Lancashire's captain at 22, played his first Test at 23 when in Australia, and scored a Lancashire record innings of 424 (against Somerset at Taunton) when still 23. It was also a County Championship record that stood for 99 years until it was eclipsed by Brian Lara's 501 for Warwickshire. The young MacLaren is pictured left.
MacLaren, in his prime, was regarded as the finest batsman in England and the Australians reckoned him the best England had ever sent to their country. In three visits he scored thirteen centuries, one of them a double and four of them in Test matches.
He opened the Lancashire batting for some years with Reg Spooner and with J. T. Tyldesley coming in at No. 3, there was no finer start to an innings in England. MacLaren belonged to the Golden Age with batting that was described as kingly and majestic. He captained Lancashire for twelve seasons and led England in twenty-two Tests against Australia.
MacLaren had little success as England captain, although he was generally highly regarded as a leader. 'He had a proud scorn of caution and he sometimes gambled on hazards with magnificent disregard of the consequences,' wrote one critic. 'His skill as a captain came out best in his control over the moves of the game on the field of play; he seemed able to see the course of events hours ahead.' This high regard was not unanimous. He was stubborn to the point of near stupidity and would never acknowledge his faults. Presumably, he never accepted he had any.
When things were going wrong in one match he insisted on persevering with Johnny Briggs who was being hammered. When the crowd shouted for MacLaren to change the bowling he threw the ball angrily and pointedly at Briggs at the end of each over for him to continue as if to emphasize his position as captain. He once abandoned a match at Lord's after the crowd had trampled on the pitch but the wicket was fine by the following morning, by which time MacLaren had taken his bat and gone home.
He was even reluctant to have Jack Hobbs in his England team in 1909. Strangely enough, Sir Henry Leveson Gower, who was chairman of the selectors then, described MacLaren as a pessimist. John Arlott wrote of him 'It was MacLaren's tragedy that all his virtues bred their own faults. He was strong but inflexible, intelligent but intolerant, single-minded but homourless, impressive on the field but often disappointingly petty off it'.
Neville Cardus would not hear a word against MacLaren, whom he dubbed the noblest Roman of them all. 'MacLaren could not, by nature, be inactive,' he wrote. 'His cricket belonged to the Golden Age of the game, to the spacious and opulent England of his day; it knew not the common touch.' R. C. Robertson-Glasgow said of him 'As captain and batsman MacLaren was a calculating attacker. His delight was to scatter the enemy by the strong stroke of bat or tactics.' MacLaren showed flashes of brilliance as a captain, particularly in lifting Sydney Barnes from the near obscurity of league cricket to the spotlight of Test cricket.
After watching Ted McDonald and Jack Gregory in 1921, MacLaren, then in his fiftieth year, said he could find a team to beat the Australians who had thrashed England. He found his team, mostly from untried youth, and beat the Aussies in an astonishing match at Eastbourne.
MacLaren often argued that in every great match there came a turning point. 'The captain who jumps to the chance of it the quicker is the man who wins,' he said. 'From the first ball on the first day a skipper should be on the lookout for this moment.'
So sound was MacLaren's method of batting, a classical action, that at the age of 51 he played for MCC against New Zealand at Wellington in 1923 and scored 200 not out. He had played his last game for Lancashire in 1914, his previous century had been in 1910. Yet several young players who took part in that game said MacLaren's batsmanship was a revelation.
Whatever his captaincy, his batting was of the highest quality and in the 1930's, when Bodyline was at its height in Australia, he stopped his taxi at the busiest crossing in Piccadilly. Ignoring the massed motor horns of London's enraged traffic, he got out and insisted on demonstrating to another old player, Gerry Weigall, exactly how he would have dealt with such bowling.
MacLaren played for Lancashire from 1890 to 1914 but effectively finished his county career in 1910 when he was 38. He had only ten innings that year, yet scored centuries at Worcester and Edgbaston. He became county coach in the 1920's after a career with the county that saw him play in 307 matches and score 15,772 runs (average 33.34) with thirty centuries.
Brian Bearshaw - From The Stretford End
Pictures: Archie MacLaren in classic batting stance (top left) and pictured in 1925, aged 54, demonstrating the qualities of a good bat (c) S&G and Barratts/EMPICS Sport