St George's Park History
Port Elizabeth, South Africa

Personalities St George's Park - Atholl Henry McKinnon
Atholl Henry McKinnon

This burly provincial front-row rugby forward and a likely successor to the late "Tufty" Mann, as a slow left-arm bowler, was born at Port Elizabeth on August 20, 1952.

His education as a youngster began at Greenbushes Primary School, but it was not until his parents moved to Port Elizabeth and Atholl progressed the long academic road from Standard III to VI at the North End Grey School, that he started taking an interest in cricket.

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Atholl McKinnon in action.

It all began when young McKinnon happened to be watching a net practice. The ball was hit in his direction and as he retrieved and returned it to the master in charge, Mr EZ Maree, he was asked to try his skill at bowling.

After being shown a few of the rudiments he was given a turn at the nets, and to his astonishment and delight found himself a member of the school team after that practice.

In due course he graduated to the Grey High School in Port Elizabeth, where he found, to his joy, that the school coach was none other than the grand old man of South African Cricket, "Uncle" Dave Nourse.

At his first net practice, batting left-handed, the youngster almost decapitated the famous old Springbok in the next net. Dave glowered at Atholl and said, " Son, turn round and bat the other way."

That instruction converted him into a right-hand bat. He found it more natural and continued to bat that way.

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The Springbok Cricket Team disembarking from a Boeing 707 of South African Airways. Atholl McKinnon is on the lowest step on the left.

From the Grey Under l4A he gained promotion in due course and captained the Under 15 team. In his first game as captain he won the toss and sent Marist, Uitenhage, in to bat.

The Grey side boasted only four bowlers, two right-hand and two left, but the young captain only solicited the assistance of Don Wichelo (later a pilot in Canada) to dismiss the Marists' side for three runs, taking seven wickets for two runs and his colleague three for one run.

That was the year he really laid the foundation for his cricketing career. He attributed the success he achieved to one of his masters, Dudley Clear.

In this under l6 side he returned other fine performances, six for 15 ; eight wickets for eight and eight wickets for 12 runs.

McKinnon's next team was the 2nd XI at the time the Jimmy Liddle was a star in the Senior team. Season 1947/48 was spent on a citrus and tobacco farm, with little or no cricket for a full year.

But that was not Atholl's "cup of tea". The call of the Flannelled Fool proved stronger than farming and Atholl returned to Port Elizabeth to join the oldest (Established 1859) - and in his estimation, the finest cricket club in the country - the Port Elizabeth Cricket Club.

He spent his first season (1948/49) in the 2nd XI and it was not until the last match of the season that he was given his chance.

That game was a vivid memory, not so much because of the "duck" he scored, but because, when he reached the wicket, "Tufty" Mann was in the process of directing operations.

It was only a matter of time before the wily Springbok, ably assisted by Doug Reimer, confirmed the entry in the score-book "McKinnon, c Reimer b Mann O". He remained a member of the PECC and although "Tufty", before his premature death, gave Atholl advice in preparation of his next venture, the consensus of opinion was that his future as a batsman was of far more value than his bowling potential.

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Atholl McKinnon chats to Peter van der Merwe.

In this respect he was ever grateful to Peter Johnson for the hours he spent attempting to improve the batting technique.

When he did eventually make the Eastern Province side (his debut was at Bloemfontein in 1952/ 53) Atholl did have the distinction of carrying his bat in each innings (scores 0 and one not out) and his five wickets cost 85 runs.

Two matches in each of his first two seasons gave no indication of his undoubted promise. It was not until the final match of his third (1954/55) season that he hit the Jackpot by taking 11 wickets (6 for 41 and 5 for 48).

His 1957/58 season was a good one, 28 wickets in six matches and success with the bat resulting in a 62 against Free State, followed by seven wickets for 51 in a single innings against Griqualand West.

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George Cox, coach to the Eastern Province side in McKinnon's early days, used to say "the ball is there to hit, so hit it hard", an aggressive aspect that really appealed to Atholl and produced quite a respectable average.

In the 1958/59 season the influence of Tom Dean's coaching and the value of the Indoor Net, were most apparent. In his most successful season to date he captured his 100th first class wicket in the first innings against Free State, and in other fine performances took 6 for 52 against Natal at East London.

His final figures were 42 wickets at 12.09 runs apiece.

In his other love, rugby, he is known as "The Boot" because of his phenomenal long-range conversions. His first-class displays soon brought his prowess to the notice of the selectors and mid-way through the 1959 rugby season, Atholl became a dual Provincial "cap".

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