Eric Rowan: The Toughest Springbok


by Mayukh Ghosh

December 24, 1949.
South Africa v Australia at Ellis Park, Johannesburg.
South Africa has three debutantes in their side.
Jack Nel, John Watkins and Hugh Tayfield.

Ellis Park, since 1946 ( till 1956), has been Transvaal's home ground.
Watkins is from Natal.
For the uninitiated, Natal v Transvaal is a bit like Yorkshire v Lancashire and NSW v Victoria.
There has never been much love between the players and the supporters too.

Arthur Morris is dismissed in the first over by Cuan McCarthy.
Then Dudley Nourse throws the ball to Watkins.
The debutant thinks that he'll deliberately bowl the first few outside the off-stump to get settled.
The first two balls swing away and are given as wides.
The Transvaal supporters start booing at the top of their voice.
Watkins stands there at the top of his run-up, transfixed.

"Don't worry, the batsmen haven't scored yet. Just hold the ball with your fingers across the seam."
The voice of Eric Rowan, the star from Transvaal.
The booing stops rather quickly.
The third ball is on the money.
Wickets of Harvey and Hassett in that innings.
Not a bad beginning.
Watkins knows who helped him when it mattered the most.

Eric Rowan was a stalwart.
He embraced controversies and never shied away from calling a spade a spade. 
Naturally, not a favourite among the selectors and the administrators.
He never had a good rapport with Alan Melville.
When Nourse became the captain after Melville, Rowan's relationship with him deteriorated as well.
He scored a double century in what turned out to be his second last Test match, at the age of 42!

He was a womanizer and never compromised much there as well.
None of the relationships lasted too long and Rowan knew who to blame for that.
Both on and off the field.

David Frith met him during the Centenary celebrations in 1988-89.
" Wild man, argumentative as they come." was his assessment.
Rowan was 79.
There was never any shortage of controversies in his life.
And in death as well.
A theory floated that he was murdered!

When he died, Wisden worte: " Eric Rowan ranked with Dudley Nourse and Bruce Mitchell in the very forefront of Test batsman from South Africa in the years before and after the Second World War."
An accurate statement.
He was not an attractive strokeplayer but he could bat.
And he knew how to score runs.

Brian Bassano thought he was the shrewdest of them all when it came to reading the game.
And undoubtedly 'the toughest Springbok'.

Eric Rowan was born on July 20, 1909.