Cricketer Clive Rice dies

Messages of condolences have poured in online for South African cricket legend Clive Edward Butler Rice who passed away on Tuesday at age 66, reports African News Agency.

“Sorry to hear about the passing of Clive Rice ‘Ricey’… Astute captain and a man that played the game hard! RIP #CliveRice,” tweeted former South African cricketer Herschelle Gibbs.

Journalists, sportspeople, politicians, and cricket supporters tweeted messages of condolence and paid tribute to the late cricket coach and former South African captain.

Another former South African cricketer Pat Symcox also tweeted: “Devastated… A great friend and wonderful man… Clive Rice has passed away. The world is a poorer place.”

English county cricket club Nottinghamshire said they were saddened by the news of the passing of their former manager: “In remembrance of Clive Rice, the flags at Trent Bridge will be flown at half-mast today.”

“Clive Rice, may the Good Lord hold you in His big hand, may he comfort your family in this sad time. We have lost a legend,” tweeted TV pundit and former Springbok World Cup winner Kobus Wiese.

Political analyst Eusebius McKaiser recalled one of his favourite newspaper headlines, “You can’t Cook without Rice!” while trade union Solidarity tweeted, “RIP ‘Mister Mean Machine’. One of our best cricketers and all-time greats”.

On Facebook, user Marlon Kruger wrote, “He was one of the reasons I started playing the game. Clive Rice, Sylvester Clark and Adrian Kuiper. Thanks for the memories Clive Rice.”

Former Western Cape community policing forum chairperson Hanif Loonat said he had spoken to Rice recently. “Spoke to Clive Rice about three weeks ago. I reminded him that he needed to introduce his bowling academy in the previously disadvantaged areas. We also debated on his [Facebook] wall. Today we are told that he succumbed to cancer. R.I.P. the pride of South African Cricket. Long live his spirit.”

In March, Rice – whose 66th birthday was on July 23 – had undergone surgery for a brain tumour in Bangalore, India, before succumbing to cancer.

Johannesburg Cricket shop owner Mike Hermanson had regular contact with Rice. Last Friday they chatted during the ODI game between Bangladesh and South Africa.

“Clive did not sound too well on Friday but news of his passing has come as a shock. For some now we had contact once a week and despite his illness he always maintained a jovial disposition.

“Some ago he jokingly said to me that the brain tumour was causing him to hook his [golf] shot and he needed to go to India to have it removed.”

The Pacemen

This chapter, on Clive Rice as a bowler, first appeared in Drew Forrest’s book The Pacemen – 100 years of South African fast bowlers.

G Cook b Rice 2

RLS Armitage b Rice 1

DH Howell c Dyer b Rice 5

I Foulkes retired hurt 12

AL Wilmot c Jennings b Rice 0

RG Fensham retired hurt 9 …

This notorious Currie Cup encounter, between Eastern Province and the Transvaal “Mean Machine” at the Wanderers in March 1980, was “like the Vietnam War for EP”, Clive Rice told the website SportsCentral. “I hit Ivor [Foulkes] on the head and also broke Russell Fensham’s arm a couple of overs later … The EP batting order from three to five all had bandages or plaster casts after the first day’s play. The game did not last long.”

Indeed. On a “green mamba” that, according to one participant, could only be distinguished from the outfield by the presence of stumps and white lines, EP were shot out for 94 in the first innings and 46 in the second, with Rice returning match figures of 9/38. The blow to Foulkes’s head, in which resulted in 15 stitches, is said to have permanently sapped his confidence in facing quick bowling.

“Ruthless” is a term often applied to Rice. In his South African benefit brochure, Garth le Roux likened him to another great all-rounder, Pakistan’s Imran Khan, in body build, action and attitude.

“Both are ruthless when they have the ball in their hands. Neither would think twice about propelling the 51/2 ounce ball straight up number eleven’s nose if he happens to be standing between his team and victory,” Le Roux wrote. “In 1977 I handed out one too many to Ricey – and I got my just rewards a few hours later in the form of 12 stitches in the mouth.”

For columnist Frank Heydenrych, Rice “was quick and he was ruthless. He WAS the Mean Machine.”

If this suggests a bloodthirsty temperament in the mould of, say, the West Indies’s Roy Gilchrist, the brochure offers a corrective. Rice was “hard but courteous … [and] enormously respected as a player and a man” (former England captain Mike Brearley); and “a quietly spoken, well-mannered, thoughtful individual” (Ali Bacher). Another commentator singles out a quality of mischievousness – epitomised by the (then) controversial  centre spread in the pulp magazine Scope of Rice posing in the buff with a jumbo cricket bat shielding his bails. In Cricket in the Shadows Vincent van der Bijl takes exception to Rice’s authoritarian leadership style, but discerns “sensitivity under a hard outer shell”.

What marked out Rice’s bowling – indeed, his entire approach to cricket, including its business side – was an iron will to win and a thoroughly modern, hard-nosed, career-minded professionalism, which had been gaining ground since the Fifties and burst into the open in the breakaway World Series Cricket (WSC) of Australian media baron Kerry Packer.

Bacher, then managing director of the Transvaal Cricket Council, described Rice as “the most professional of all South Africa’s professional cricketers, with a keen sense of responsibility to the sponsors of the game”. Further underlining this was his fanatical cultivation of physical fitness. England keeper Alan Knott, another gym junkie, said that before a WSC tour to New Zealand he saw the South African  “sprinting up and down the length of the ground until he was sick”.

Rice was a natural for the WSC, both because of the rewards it promised – $25 000 for a three-month season, at a time when he earned about R120 a season for Transvaal – and its ferociously competitive ethos. Seen as an inconsistent performer in the mid-Seventies, he came into his own in the tournament’s second year, 1978/9, both with the ball (7/169 at 24.14 in three Supertests) and the bat.

The experience appears to have toughened him in another way – sacked by his English county, Nottinghamshire, over the Packer jaunt, he was rehired after mounting a challenge in the Old Bailey with Packer’s support, and, in 1981, led the club to its first county championship since the reign of Harold Larwood and Bill Voce 52 years earlier. In that year he was also named one of Wisden’s Five Cricketers of the Year.

Pivotal to the trophy, and to another partly under his captaincy six years later, was his new-ball collaboration with New Zealand fast-bowling legend Richard Hadlee. Hadlee observes that because of their combined menace, “other counties feared Notts”.

In 1981 the two strike bowlers, then at the height of their powers, accounted for 170 first-class scalps, 65 of them pinned to Rice’s shield. “I’ve always missed having a bowling partner at the other end,” Hadlee wrote. “To have Clive … worked wonders for me and the club.”

The consensus is that Rice could be as quick as any of his contemporaries: “His bowling, when he puts it together, is just as lethal and effective as other fast bowlers in world cricket,” was Hadlee’s assessment. Imran said he was “yards faster” than Ian Botham, as he extracted extra pace and bounce by leaning back before he released the ball, but that in the early 1980s he could not swing it like the Englishman.

By the end of the decade he could still terrorise Kim Hughes’s rebel Australians,­ his feats in six “tests” against them including 4/19 and a hat-trick. However, he had become a more nuanced performer, acquiring the arts of swing and cut and deploying the delivery of highest pace as a strategic variation.

Thirty years on it is hard to recall the feverish intensity of provincial cricket during the boycott years: starved of exposure on the world stage, the professional ambitions of that brilliantly gifted generation were redirected into the domestic game. In this setting Rice was enormously influential: captain from 1981, he presided over a rampant Transvaal that landed five Currie Cup trophies.

Bacher emphasises that if his batting was most prized at Notts, Transvaal held Rice’s exploits with the ball in highest esteem. They spanned quite a period: in 1979/80, his annus mirabilis, he grabbed 43 Currie Cup wickets at 11.76; eight years later, including a 15-month layoff because of back trouble, he could still manage 30 at 16.6.

Rice makes no secret of the fact that he instructed the Wanderers curator to prepare green surfaces that offered carry and seam movement. Conditions were the same for both sides, he argues, pointing out that when Transvaal was on the receiving end in the 1980 “Vietnam war”, Graeme Pollock took the EP bowling apart, making 157.

“In World Series you had to bowl at 90 mph and the batsmen had to know how to play that kind of pace,” he said. “Back in SA it was saloon cars as opposed to Formula One: a lot of provincial players just didn’t have the technique.”

Barry Richards was the model: the trigger movement was back and across, rather than on to the front foot, “and when you saw that, you knew you were in for a tough time”.

As Transvaal skipper Rice applied the lessons of Trent Bridge, where the batsman-friendly surfaces meant an annual tussle with Derbyshire over who would finish bottom of the log. “Mike Smedley [the Notts captain] used to tell the groundsman: ‘Cut that grass or we’ll both get the sack …’ The pros’ only concern was to make 1 000 runs a season and get their contracts renewed,” Rice said. “That made me angry – ­I was interested in winning.”

Picked for the aborted 1971/2 tour of Australia, Rice led South Africa in most of the rebel “tests” of the Eighties, but saw official international service only as skipper of the new-era side that played three ODIs in India in 1991.

His career also spanned one of cricket’s great turning points, the adoption of crash helmets, on Packer’s insistence, during the WSC. A psychological threshold was crossed when, instead of being felled by a bouncer to the head, a helmet-wearing Tony Greig instructed Dennis Lillee “to piss off and get on with bowling”.

A sad irony of his benefit brochure is the chorus of regret from leading black players of the time, including West Indian Viv Richards, that Rice had been barred from the test arena.

“It was all a political situation that we players could do nothing about ­ despite the fact that overseas, Holding, Garner, Richards were our mates,” Rice told me. “So do I have respect for politicians? Not a lot.”

First class career (1969-1994): 930 wickets at 22.49. S/R: 52.2

Unofficial tests (18): 28 wickets at 22.39. S/R: 56.1

The Pacemen – 100 years of South African fast bowlers is available as an e-book from Amazon at  and from Takealot.

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