Archie: A Biography of AC MacLaren
Author: Michael Down
Publisher: George Allen & Unwin
Rating: 3 stars
By David Taylor
15 Sep 2008
This life story of one of the Golden Age's most colourful characters was written in 1981. In writing 'most cricket historians will agree that for exciting finishes, outstanding individual performances and endless talking points, the 1902 Test series has never been surpassed' Down was presumably writing before the Ashes series of that year, yet he chose for his subject a man who was very much in the Botham mould - utterly confident of his own abilities, often tactless, sometimes tactically naive, but one who believed that the bowling was there to be hit.
Captain of Lancashire from 1894 to 1905, he was appointed at the age of 22 virtually by default - the only amateur with the requisite ability who was regularly available. He also led England in 22 Tests between 1897-98 and 1909, appointed full-time in 1899 on the insistence of WG Grace. In his first season as county captain he made the phenomenal score of 424 against Somerset at Taunton, which was to remain the highest first-class score made in England until surpassed by Brian Lara in 1994. The innings gets a chapter to itself, unsurprisingly. Along with the glorious Indian summer enjoyed by WG, it was the sensation of the season. Although the match was played in mid-July it was only his third game of the season and he had not played for some six weeks. He had been obliged to work as a teacher during the early part of the season despite his appointment as captain.
This touches on a recurring theme of the book - MacLaren was often short of money (although he never let that restrict his spending) even though Lancashire employed him as assistant secretary, presumably to ensure his availability. It is thought he may have been paid as much as ?40 a week, a very good wage for the time. He seems to have often been unreliable in business matters, leaving others to sort out the mess. It is not an attractive side of his personality. Worshipped by the Old Trafford faithful and by the likes of Neville Cardus - who wrote about him the memorable line 'he didn't merely hook the ball, he dismissed it from his presence' - his man management skills could be lacking. In 1902, when the England captain had little or no say in selection, he arrived at the Oval, looked around and moaned "my God, look what they've given me! Do they think we are playing the blind asylum?" Nevertheless this is a sympathetic and well researched portrait, and a worthy record of the career of a fine batsman.