Clive Rice: gentleman, thug, hard bastard, champion

Times Media

TELFORD VICE, Cape Town

CLIVE Rice looked like a gentleman, talked like a thug and played cricket like the hard bastard he was until Tuesday when, aged 66, he died of septicemia in Cape Town.

To the unknowing eye, Rice was a balding nondescript of utterly average height, build and cut of jib who had resorted to cultivating a cartoon moustache in a pathetic attempt to set himself apart.

Those who knew better could have sworn he grew a foot, with shoulders to match, when he stepped onto a cricket ground.

In an age when the psychology of sport was more seance than science, Rice knew how to get the best out of his players and himself while reducing opponents to shadows of the men they thought they were. Not even umpires got off easily.

“Before you walked onto the field he had marked you down from 100% to 60%,” a former man in a white coat, Rudi Koertzen, said on Tuesday.

After standing in a match in which Rice was captain, Koertzen took a call from umpires’ head Brian Basson.

“What went wrong,” Basson asked.

Koertzen was surprised: “What do mean? I thought I had a good game.”

Basson concurred: “That’s exactly what I mean – ‘Clive Rice gave you 100%!”

Rice sprang to prominence as a fast bowler and matured into an allrounder and a captain. But only one description fitted him: champion.

Rice led what the team then called Transvaal – or, almost as frequently, the Mean Machine – to three Currie Cup titles and Nottinghamshire to two county championships.

He was captain in 610 of his 1100 matches as a senior player. His teams won 305 of those games and lost just 168. He engineered 26 innings victories and felt the sting of leading a side who had lost by an innings only eight times.

And yet, despite all that and more – he won three single-wicket competitions against Kapil Dev, Imran Khan, Ian Botham and Richard Hadlee, supposedly the most princely allrounders of the age – Rice is one of cricket’s most tragic figures.

He was part of the first generation of white SA players to be denied by apartheid-induced isolation what they took as the right they had earned to play international cricket.

When SA were allowed back into big cricket’s fold, he was too old to play more than the three one-day internationals that comprised the groundbreaking 1991 tour to India.

In retirement Rice became embittered with the drive to racially transform the game in SA and actively steered players elsewhere. Indeed, Kevin Pietersen hightailed it to Trent Bridge when Rice was on Notts’ books as cricket manager.

But Rice will be remembered as he was in his pomp: tough, uncompromising, a winner among winners.

Graeme Pollock painted that picture on Tuesday when he related what happened after he had his hand fractured by the rebel Australians’ Carl Rackemann at the Wanderers in January, 1986.

“I retired hurt, and I thought I was going to have a restful time of it after that,” Pollock said.

Like bloody hell: “Clive said, ‘I want you to pad up’. I thought that was a bit mean – I mean, I had a broken hand.”

Kevin McKenzie was steaming towards a century but wickets were dwindling. So, at 274/9 and with McKenzie still in double figures, Pollock returned.

McKenzie was last out for 110 and Pollock finished unbeaten on 65. Then Rice took 3/8 in six overs as the Australians were shot out for 61 to clinch victory in the five-day match by 188 runs.

“That summed up ‘Ricey’,” Pollock said, and it did.

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