Archie MacLaren of Lancashire and England has many reasons to be remembered in the great ledger of cricket history. Capped thirty five times between 1894 and 1909 – an era where opportunities were far less plentiful than today – twenty two of them as captain. He hit 47 first class centuries in 424 appearances for Lancashire and his high-score of 424, scored away to Somerset in 1895, stood as a record for nearly thirty years. A stylish bat, he could take a bowler apart with attacking intent, yet was able to employ the forward-defensive when the situation called.
Here was a man of clear convictions and strong opinions that he was not slow to voice; a fact that would lead to various fallings out with players and authorities throughout his career. He had particularly stringent views on correct technique and the way the game should be played. In his 1924 book Cricket Old and New, Archie berated the modern player who “is not content to develop his game on legitimate lines. Nothing will satisfy him but to cut loose from the old traditions, to ignore the principles that have stood the test of so many years, and to uproot the only foundations on which real cricketing skill can build successfully. He is, in short, the Bolshevist of the cricketing world, and it is about time he was suppressed.”
MacLaren was a stickler for a sound technique but was no conservative batsman. He was very much from the amateur ethos, where the game was to be played with spirit and verve. That finest of all cricket writers, Neville Cardus, once wrote that “A. C. MacLaren taught me through the game of cricket the meaning of epic romance, style, generosity of gesture”. Which brings us to the incident with which he earns his place in Cricket Stuff’s hall of fame. Much of the following account is taken from Cardus’s Autobiography.
Captaining England in Sydney in December, 1901, MacLaren won the toss and strolled to the middle to open the batting alongside Tom Hayward. Taking his guard “in his customary lord-of-creation manner”, MacLaren surveyed the field. Turning to the leg –side, the English captain was aghast to see three close fielders. He called to Joe Darling, the Australian skipper.
“Joe”, he said, “what’s the meaning of this?”
“What’s the meaning of what, Archie?”
“Why,” said MacLaren, indicating with a sweep of his bat the crouching leg-side fieldsmen, “why – what are these people doing here, Joe?”
“That’s my field for you, Archie,” replied Darling. MacLaren waved his bat at them again. “Joe,” he said, “take them away.”
“Take who away?” inquired Darling.
“You know what I mean Joe,” said MacLaren, “please take them away.”
And Darling persisted: “But, Archie, I can set my field as I choose; get on with the game.”
“Take them away, Joe,” said Archie with undisturbed patience, “how do you expect me to make my celebrated hook-stroke if these damned silly people get in my way?”
The game proceeded, leg-trap and all. MacLaren dispatched Ernest Jones for a couple of straight boundaries and, in response, Darling removed one of the close-in fielders to plug the gap.
“Thank you, Joe” said MacLaren, “now we may proceed with the match like gentlemen.”
MacLaren scored 116. England won by an innings and 124 runs.