In a sport where records are valued more than anything else, what place do we fans hold for values like fearlessness and unabashed commitment?
On what pedestal of respect would you place a cricketer who might not boast of Bradmanesque numbers, but one who epitomised courage under pressure.
Perhaps it may not be incorrect to say that lovers of the gentleman’s game have attributed respect to both- big-hitters and huge run-scorers as well as those who batted without a care for the world.
But there was also a strange character who batted minus gloves whilst facing music from the likes of Hedley Verity and Morris Nichols.
Long before cricket changed form and became an object for commercialisation, a tool looked for entertainment purposes, where in a Clint Eastwood and Richard Burton-style Eagles dared in cricketing form, there was a certain Eric Rowan.
Eric Rowan, who sparked the Proteas fire long before South African cricket team even came to be known as the Proteas.
Not the tallest cricketer around, nor the one with burlesque muscles or a hefty frame, Eric Rowan was as fiery on the pitch as he was off it.
And he used his seemingly inexhaustible reserve of stamina to show solidity with the bat, apart from bringing to the field excellent standards of physical fitness.
Inarguably speaking, one of Johannesburg’s greatest exports to world cricket, Eric Rowan was a determined batsman who put a high price on his wicket.
Someone who was around cricket as intrinsically as is a Abraham Benjamin de Villiers to greatness, Eric Rowan played in the days before and after the Second World War, unflustered by the tethering changes the bloodied war brought to a world that looks incomplete without Cricket, such a great unifier.
One of the most iconic batsmen of an era where South Africa usually had only two big names forming headlines, Dudley Nourse and Bruce Mitchell, the very batsmen today’s T20-obsessed youth ought to know (if they truly consider themselves as cricket fans), Eric Rowan emerged as the bright third man, though one the team resorted to whenever in trouble.
After years of several hits and misses, but not after entertaining crowds with all shots in his armoury, Eric Rowan struck gold in the form of a maiden Test century but that wasn’t before 1948.
Back then, he was nearing retirement, touching 39 and had hit five Test fifties until such time, which included a breathtaking unbeaten 89.
Though, by 1936, Rowan had become a South African regular, having evidenced a whirlwind year in 1938, where his batting average was 95.
But for as long as the legend of Eric Rowan will live on, one will tread where most pundits and old-school cricket fans do, admirers who seek pleasure in being touted as cricket-nerds: the 156 not out versus England.
It would turn out to be the team against whom the brave right-hander who lived by his father’s wisdom, “If you see the ball, hit it with all the power you have,” would go on to score 1364 of his 1965 runs.
For someone who sought pleasure in defying odds, breaking convention and making his own place under the sun, Eric Rowan encountered an exasperatingly hot day at Ellis Park, Jo’burg for the Second Test in 1948.
Yet, he went a step ahead by deciding not to don gloves and bat minus the hat, as legend holds, on his way to a defiant 156.
This was when he was up against a dangerous trinity of Denis Compton, Alec Bedser, and Douglas Wright.
Why that 156 mattered is because England powered themselves to 608, stroked by three magnificent centuries including those by Sir Len Hutton, Denis Compton, and Cryil Washbrook.
Though, in a team powered by Nourse and Mitchell, it was Eric Rowan to waged a lone battle, ensuring the match ended in a draw.
But if one thought that the 1948 heroics, that alone yielded 187 runs from just 3 innings, was the greatest moment, then one couldn’t be any more mistaken.
Rowan’s epochal moment came at the very fag end of his career, circa 1951, when he was, believe it or not- 42 years old.
In hammering 236, also against England, which was a fifth of his career runs in a single stroke of effort, the contest became Eric Cowan versus England, the right-hander with an easy stand and unquestionable agility compiling an astonishing 296 runs from the Headingley Test, with another 60 in the next inning.
A match drawn but in real, won by the tireless power of a South African who knew little about bowing down, showed just how great a achiever Eric Rowan was when age wasn’t on his side, not that it mattered one bit.
Here’s something that AB fans may want to know, who rightly admire his dexterity and charisma in multiple sports.
Among the things to note about this extraordinary South African was that he was just as good in Squash, Rugby and Soccer, bringing to fore an inbound thirst for athleticism that found its true meaning when he wielded the bat.
For a career that ended painfully shy of 2,000 runs, ending 35 runs before retirement, it appears to be a bit of a myth that such a daunting character even lived in flesh and blood and cared little for ‘worrying’ or being ‘fearful’ even when challenged by outstanding opponents like Sir Len Hutton, Denis Compton.
Though long before stamping his authority in Cricket, Rowan had already struck his highest-inter provincial score of 306, a knock during which he remained unbeaten for Transvaal against Natal (1939).
What must be celebrated though, and perhaps isn’t is that, for a batsman who could manage no more than 240 runs and from 10 innings, ended his final series in Test cricket with no fewer than 515 runs, averaging the highest he ever did- 57.
Just imagine how many more might he have gone on to score if Cricket wasn’t played as selectively then where today, there’s a game practically every single day?