Wisden Obituary

Clive Rice


Richard Hadlee, Clive Rice, Kapil Dev, Ian Botham and Malcolm Marshall, at the Silk Cut Challenge allrounders tournament, Taunton, September 15, 1984
Clive Rice was a superb middle-order batsman, combative fast bowler and an inspiring captain © PA Photos
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Players/Officials: Clive Rice
Teams: South Africa

RICE, CLIVE EDWARD BUTLER, died on July 28, five days after his 66th birthday. Of all the great South African cricketers confined to the margins during more than 20 years of sporting isolation, few felt the pain more acutely than Clive Rice. His bristling frustration was especially visible during the 1980s, when Ian Botham, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev and Imran Khan fought a running battle to be considered the world's leading all-rounder. Rice knew he had the talent to be part of the scrap.

Instead he channelled his skills as a superb middle-order batsman, combative fast bowler and inspiring captain into domestic cricket - and became a serial winner. In England he joined forces with Hadlee to turn Nottinghamshire from also-rans into county champions in 1981 and 1987, while in his homeland he led Transvaal to five Currie Cup victories. He was a feisty, unyielding figure who led by example rather than tactical inspiration.

According to Derek Randall, "You would have followed him through a brick wall." His yearning to play Test cricket was never realised, but he had the distinction of leading the first South African team after readmission in 1991. A hastily arranged one-day series in India was as much a PR exercise as a cricketing one, and the 42-year-old Rice handled it with aplomb. He was photographed with Mother Teresa in Kolkata, and gave an appropriate sound bite before the first match, at Eden Gardens: "Now I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he stood on the moon." Rice returned home and began to plan for the World Cup in Australia early the next year, but the selectors chose Kepler Wessels to lead the team instead. It was a bitter blow and, many felt, unjust. "He should have been our captain in the 1992 World Cup," said Graeme Pollock. "The guys who had kept cricket going in South Africa for 20 years should have been involved more when we came back."

Rice's squabbles with his country's administrators lasted until his death. He became an outspoken opponent of what he called the "inverted racism" of the quota system, believing that selection should only ever be on merit, and he was angered by Cricket South Africa's treatment of players from the apartheid era. His stance was regarded by some as unacceptably blinkered. Rice was also unflinching in claiming foul play in the deaths of Hansie Cronje and Bob Woolmer. He returned to Nottinghamshire as cricket manager between 1999 and 2002, when he imported a young Kevin Pietersen.

Rice, whose grandfather Philip Bower had played for Oxford University in 1919, was born in Johannesburg and made his debut in the B section of the Currie Cup in 1969-70. By the following season he was in Transvaal's first team. His progress was such that he was named in the South Africa squad to go to Australia in 1971-72, but the tour was called off and his Test aspirations were stalled for ever. He came to England to play for Ramsbottom in the Lancashire League in 1973, and two years later was given the task of replacing Garry Sobers as overseas player at Trent Bridge. Wisden introduced him as Pat Rice, perhaps thinking Nottinghamshire had acquired the Arsenal full-back, but the unfamiliarity did not last long. In his first season he passed 1,000 Championship runs and led their bowling averages, and in 1976 and 1977 he topped both the batting and the bowling. But the county still finished bottom in 1977, and he was appointed captain in the hope that his competitiveness would rub off.

The plan went awry when Rice signed for Kerry Packer during the winter, which left Nottinghamshire - staunch critics of World Series Cricket - with little choice but to sack him. However, the threat of legal action forced his reinstatement as a player, and he responded with 1,727 runs at 61, and 41 wickets at 20. The row had another serendipitous benefit: before Rice's return, Nottinghamshire had recruited Hadlee to replace him. That summer, the pair bowled in tandem for the first time.

Rice's innate edge was perfectly suited to the intensity of WSC, although he suffered broken ribs, courtesy of Dennis Lillee, during an exhibition match in Auckland. He discovered a mentor in Tony Greig, Packer's chief recruiting officer. "Greig had told him, 'Look, you are a good player but you have to be more aggressive and demanding,'" said Pollock. "He was always a good cricketer but that added something." When Packer signed his peace treaty with the Australian authorities, the South African players felt the end of WSC most keenly. Rice broke down in front of his wife. "It was as if someone had taken my right arm," he said. "I never knew the truth of 'it is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all'. But I believe it now."

In July 1979, back at Trent Bridge, he took over the captaincy from Mike Smedley, whom he did not rate, and set about shaping the team in his own image; he banished any notion that it was good enough simply to finish above Derbyshire. "He was tough, he expected high standards and he always played hard," remembered Hadlee. "He played the game to win - he would take high-risk options." Rice was an early proponent of improved fitness and, when the players returned in the spring of 1980, they were put through their training runs; Rice made sure he was always home first. They came third in the Championship, and his five unbeaten centuries included one in each innings against Somerset. He was a Wisden Cricketer of the Year, but it was just a warm-up for 1981, when the Championship returned to Trent Bridge for the first time since 1929. Nine wins in the last 11 games carried them irresistibly to the title, and Rice understood the significance of the achievement when county stalwart Reg Simpson wept in the dressingroom.

Rice and Hadlee made a formidable pair, especially on the greentops prepared by Ron Allsopp, and played in every game that summer. They shared 170 wickets (not to mention 2,200 runs) and became as synonymous with Nottinghamshire's new-ball threat as Larwood and Voce. Rice was not blessed with Hadlee's subtleties, but he moved the ball off the seam and could generate considerable pace. He had a nasty bouncer and put every ounce of effort into every ball. "His hand would hit the pitch on his follow-through," said Randall. "You would often see he had bruised fingers." Hadlee added: "When he was 100% fit he was as slippery as anyone. I would bowl with the wind and he'd bowl into it - that's where he lost most of his hair, I think."

As a batsman, Rice was adaptable and technically correct. "He would have got into the top six of a Test batting order even without his bowling," said Pollock. Deprived of Test cricket, Rice relished the chance to compete against many of the world's leading players in the Championship. "That's how he measured how good he was," said Hadlee. He was also highly motivated for the single-wicket competitions involving the world's best allrounders held between 1984 and 1987, winning three of them.

Rice and Hadlee enjoyed a memorable swansong with Nottinghamshire in 1987, winning the Championship again and adding the NatWest Trophy, their first knockout success. The captaincy had switched to Tim Robinson, but Rice took the reins for the last two matches of the campaign. In 13 seasons at Trent Bridge he never failed to pass 1,000 runs, and in all scored 17,053 first-class runs for Nottinghamshire at 44, and took 476 wickets at 23. He was captain of Transvaal for a hat-trick of Currie Cup and Nissan Shield doubles between 1982-83 and 1984-85, two accompanied by victories in the Benson and Hedges one-day competition. His team's relentless approach earned the nickname the "Mean Machine". He also led South Africa against rebel touring sides, again relishing the scent of international combat, but a row with chairman of selectors Peter van der Merwe about the make-up of the one-day squad against the Australians had far-reaching consequences: van der Merwe was still in charge when Rice was left out of the 1992 World Cup.

He had two final seasons at Natal, eventually under the captaincy of Malcolm Marshall, in the early 1990s before retiring, and did not go quietly, scoring a one-day century against Transvaal at the age of 44. Rice remained a prominent figure in South African cricket, and once made unusual headlines when he posed naked, save for a strategically placed Jumbo bat, to advertise a sports-goods company. "People still remember me for doing that ad rather than for the runs I scored," he said. The ill health of his later years - chiefly an invasive brain tumour - did not dim his passion for fast cars or his candour when discussing the state of South African cricket. He died a little over a week before the Fourth Ashes Test at Trent Bridge, where there was a minute's applause in his memory before the first day's play. Pietersen, to whom he became a mentor in his early days in England, said: "He was such a tough character on the field, but such a caring person off it, a gentleman."

© John Wisden & Co