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The epitome of a South African age

Clive Rice bats Getty Images

Clive Rice, the serial belligerent, has passed away from complications arising from acute septicaemia. He was 66.

Rice was not a well man in recent years, having cancerous lesions cut out of his legs and lungs, and later suffering from an invasive brain tumour for which he sought radical laser treatment in Bangalore. In an interview earlier this year, he spoke with fondness about his old mate, Graeme Pollock, who was a fellow traveller when Transvaal's legendary Mean Machine side was in its pomp in the 1980s. "We're in the departure lounge," said Rice of his and Pollock's failing health.

Rice was a product of St John's College on Houghton Ridge in Johannesburg, from where he matriculated in the late 1960s. The institution is a stone's throw away from its great sporting rival, the equally famous King Edward VII.

Rice has a field named after him at the school (the other is named after the legendary Bruce Mitchell) and it wasn't long before the once schoolboy was playing for his province, batting down the order and bowling second or third change.

Such were his domestic performances after his Transvaal debut in 1969 that he elbowed his way into the Springbok side chosen to tour Australia in 1971-72. With the tide of international opinion turning against the apartheid regime, however, the tour never took place.

"Rice was the epitome of an age, like Coke in bottles, Creamy Toffee and fat pink squares of Wicks chewing gum. So reproducible were his quirks that we used to mimic him from afar, rolling the sleeves of our shirts down so we could roll them up to the elbow as we stomped back to our marks"

In a sense it was a disturbing foreshadowing of what was to happen many years later, when Rice was omitted from South Africa's 1992 World Cup touring party. Having led South Africa (such was the nature of the hastily arranged tour that the South Africans didn't travel in official blazers) to India in late 1991, Rice was widely expected to take the side to their first World Cup. It wasn't to be, as the selectors and their convenor, Peter van der Merwe, picked younger players - Jonty Rhodes, Richard Snell and Hansie Cronje - in a side captained by Kepler Wessels, a man with more (and more recent) international experience.

Rice never saw eye to eye with van der Merwe, a man he saw as a milquetoast. Their fractious relationship dated back to the mid-1980s and the time of unofficial "rebel" tours by a variety of West Indian, Australian and English tourists. Rice believed that van der Merwe was spineless, and by the time it came to selecting the World Cup side of '92, the damage Rice had done with his casually hurtful, tough-talking ways was irreparable.

Matters weren't helped by Rice allowing himself to be photographed by a Sunday Times photographer over New Year a couple of weeks beforehand, when Transvaal were down in the Cape to play their traditional Currie Cup fixture against Western Province. Rice, wearing a Father Christmas hat and false beard, was ferried into the lobby of a Newlands hotel in a wheelchair pushed by Jimmy Cook. The caption referred jauntily to "the two old men of SA cricket hoping that the selectors saw the funny side of their jape", but legend has it that van der Merwe was not amused. Rice never played for South Africa again, although Cook was forgiven.

In the absence of international cricket, the traditional New Year's fixture was as good as it got for either province. One of the greatest games ever took place at Newlands in the 1977 fixture, with Garth Le Roux, Eddie Barlow, Allan Lamb and Wessels turning out for the home side.

The ante was upped early, when Le Roux hit Robbie Muzzell, the Transvaal opener, on the chin, an injury requiring 12 stitches. Le Roux bounced all the Transvaal batsmen, including Rice, prompting Rice to quip to the blond fast-bowler: "The difference between your bouncers and mine is that I hit."

Transvaal declared seven wickets down. Le Roux eventually came to the crease in his mandatory tailender role. Rice brought himself on and hit him full in the mouth the first ball he bowled - revenge for Muzzell's blood.

With both sides having batted, Le Roux then bowled one of the quickest spells Muzzell ever faced. "David Dyer and myself opened the batting and we had to negotiate an awkward period of about 40 minutes before close of play," he said. "It was not pleasant. We were both scared."

Batting last, Western Province chased 252, eventually shutting up shop when they realised winning the match was beyond them. In the gloaming, a nation wrapped around their transistor radios, Rice bowled the last over of the match to the Province wicketkeeper, Rob Drummond. "Ricey was struggling a little with his knee but he still had that remarkable ability to generate pace from the deck," said Muzzell. "Off the last ball of the match he bowled Drummond and Transvaal won narrowly. That was Ricey - competitive until the last ball."

I listened to the match on the radio, far away in upcountry Transvaal, where it was already dark. Thinking back on it, Rice was the epitome of an age, like Coke in bottles, Creamy Toffee and fat pink squares of Wicks chewing gum. So reproducible were his quirks that we used to mimic him from afar, rolling the sleeves of our shirts down so we could roll them up to the elbow as we stomped back to our marks as schoolboy Lillees and Le Rouxs.

The anoraks amongst us even followed Rice's exploits in the County Championship, reading about his deeds in the fine drizzle of the results page. He and Richard Hadlee pulled Nottinghamshire up by their bootstraps, winning the Championship twice with a little help from the Trent Bridge groundsman.

The 1981 victory was probably the more romantic of the two wins, the county's first since 1929. Rice and Hadlee took 170 wickets between them and together scored 2207 runs. Rice's haul of 1462 put him just outside the top ten in the list of run scorers.

His exploits in World Series cricket were equally impressive, equally barnstorming, although, tragically, he will be remembered for not only what he did but where he didn't go - part of a generation of forgotten cricketers.