November 11, 2011

Can bat, can bowl, can start political party

Fifty-some years ago Clive Ryneveld led South Africa against Australia. Then he put a new spin on the term "allrounder"

To the modern cricket fan, an allrounder is a player who can bat and bowl pretty well. Clive van Ryneveld was a different type of allrounder, although he could do both of those things to a high standard.

In the late 1950s, van Ryneveld had much more on his plate than captaining South Africa's Test side, which alone, for most men, would be enough of a challenge. This is best highlighted by his preparation for the 1957-58 series against Ian Craig's Australians.

"I was working fairly hard trying to build up a practice at law in Cape Town," van Ryneveld said. "I was particularly short of cricket before the Tests started because I had got elected to parliament only a couple of months before the tour started. My constituency was 600 miles away in East London and commitments there meant that, frankly, I hadn't made 50 runs before the Tests started. That was no way to take on the Australians."

And people think Graeme Smith's side has lacked preparation this year.

"We would have a net the day before a Test match, but that was the sum total of it," van Ryneveld said.

Of course, in his day, cricket was an amateur sport. So was rugby, the other game he played at international level, for England during his time as a Rhodes scholar in the late 1940s. It's no wonder he has titled his new book of reminiscences 20th Century All-rounder. Few men have played two sports at international level. Few have helped found a meaningful political party. It's hard to believe anyone has done both.

As one of the 12 United Party MPs who quit the organisation in 1959 and started the Progressive Party, van Ryneveld helped demonstrate that there was a tangible anti-apartheid community among white South Africans, even if HF Verwoerd's National Party was at the time an unstoppable political force.

"The Nats had got in and they brought in a lot of legislation that was repugnant," van Ryneveld says. "The Group Areas Act; they expanded the Immorality Act to stop any sort of contact between white and black. You had separate education systems for blacks, which was very inferior. There were a lot of things that worried a lot of us.

"Our views were uncommon at the time for white South Africans. They just couldn't see all the Africans and the coloureds being able to take part in a democratic process. Whites were, frankly, quite afraid of what would happen if all the blacks got the vote. It was unusual and although there was a Liberal Party [before the Progressive Party was founded], it had no representation in politics at all."

Sadly, van Ryneveld's progressive leanings brought about his political downfall. At the next election, of the 12 MPs who defected from the United Party, only one, Helen Suzman, retained her seat. All the same, during van Ryneveld's time in parliament several key events took place, including the referendum to decide whether South Africa became a republic, the banning of the African National Congress and the PNC, and Harold Macmillan's Wind of Change speech.

"Some interesting things happened during that period but I really couldn't afford, financially, to run again," van Ryneveld says. "The parliamentary salary was peanuts - you couldn't live off it. It was impossible to try to keep a law practice at the same time. Besides, there wasn't much scope for Progressives for many years. It was only after about 13 more years that another Progressive got into parliament. We used to give Helen Suzman a hand, doing a bit of research out of parliament. She was outstanding."

van Ryneveld is now 83 but he remains modern in his outlook, albeit on less significant matters. Our meeting in Cape Town was organised via email. He occasionally logs on to ESPNcricinfo to check statistics. He is a firm believer that the decision review system is good for the game.

van Ryneveld is a tall man with lively eyes and hands that dart about as he talks, and his passion is evident even today. He speaks with an aristocratic accent cultivated at Oxford, and he speaks of significant issues, such as the Paarl Riot in the early 1960s. He was the defence lawyer who represented five men accused of leading the riot, in which more than a hundred township residents marched into Paarl and attacked the police station, attempting to free several prisoners. Shops and houses were also burnt and attacked, and a woman and a man were killed.

It was a distressing case for van Ryneveld, for three of the five defendants were sentenced to death. One of the most moving extracts in his book is a copy of a letter to van Ryneveld from Felix Jaxa, one of the condemned men, written the day before they were hanged. "I write this letter to express my gratitude to you," Jaxa writes. "Actually we are all very grateful for the defence you did in order to save our souls. That you have failed to defend us so that at least we should get years imprisonment must not discourage you."

Perhaps the case did discourage van Ryneveld, though, for within a couple of years he had moved into merchant banking, also in part due to the negative way ex-politicians were viewed in the field of justice. An unfailingly fair man, it must have been a shame for him to be lost to the law.

"I was particularly short of cricket before the Tests started because I had got elected to parliament only a couple of months before the tour started"

That same sense of fair play extended to his cricket. In that 1957-58 series against Australia he refused to let his fast bowlers, the fearsome Neil Adcock and Peter Heine, bowl more than one bouncer per over. It was a result of New Zealand's Bert Sutcliffe having been felled by an Adcock bumper at the Wanderers in 1953-54 and sent to hospital.

"I just thought it wasn't in the spirit of cricket to go on bowling too many short-pitched balls," van Ryneveld says. "In retrospect I think we could legitimately have used a few more against Australia, particularly against Alan Davidson, who I don't think liked it very much. He used to hook and we dropped him once or twice in the deep.

"The Aussies didn't have anyone who could do it back to us, really. Davidson came through low. He never really bowled a bumper. [Ian] Meckiff didn't manage to get it up. If we'd exploited that advantage we might have done a bit better." Instead, van Ryneveld's men lost to Craig's side, which had been labelled the worst Australian squad ever to leave Australia.

By his own admission van Ryneveld was not a great student of the game - understandably, for he hardly had the time. A batting allrounder who drifted up and down the order and bowled some flighty legspinners, he says he didn't play sufficient cricket "to be in the top flight". All the same, he loved the game then and still does today. Not surprisingly, he is impressed by those of the current players who show a certain amount of humility. "I think there are some very sound characters in the South African side at the moment," he says. "Chaps like [Hashim] Amla and [AB] de Villiers, I think they're a damn good calibre of person.

"I watch a lot on TV and when there are games at Newlands I always come and watch. I don't much enjoy the Twenty20. I quite enjoy the 50-50 games, but really I prefer the old style of Test match.

"I think the technology and the review system is interesting. I think it's a good thing. It adds interest for the spectators and it makes it a bit fairer. I don't think it's perfect. One of the things I've noticed is that a ball often swerves after it has bounced - you see it going through to the keeper and it swings quite a lot. Therefore if it hits the pad on the front leg after it has bounced, you can't assume it's going straight on from that point. Hawk-Eye [doesn't account for] any swing. I think that's a slight defect in the system, but nevertheless I think it adds a lot of interest for the spectators."

Still progressive after all these years.

20th Century All-Rounder is available in South Africa through Pretext and in the UK through Fairfield Books

Brydon Coverdale is an assistant editor at ESPNcricinfo

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