Clive Rice and the game when he was the best of the best

Clive Rice has died at the age of 66 after a lengthy battle with cancer. He was one of cricket’s greatest all-rounders in an era – the mid-seventies to early-nineties – of truly great all-rounders. But unlike Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Kapil Dev and Richard Hadlee, Rice’s achievements register barely a blip on the international cricket radar.

Clive Rice was South African, a rising 22 year-old all-rounder for Transvaal when the national team’s tour of Australia for the 1971-72 summer was called off, untenable in light of South Africa’s governing regime of apartheid.

It was another twenty years before Rice would represent his country, the formal dismantling of apartheid, the rise of the Rainbow Nation and South Africa’s readmission to the International Cricket Council having created the opportunity for its first-ever tour of India in November 1991. Rice was chosen as the first captain of the Proteas and led them for three one-day internationals. Although he was not retained for the 1992 World Cup, it was an historic honour for a gifted and tenacious player.

Rice, of course, was fortunate to have even that belated opportunity to represent South Africa. So many talented coloured cricketers, able only to play in race-based tournaments parallel to the official first-class (and all-white) Currie Cup, were not.

Rice’s greatest achievements came at first-class level for Transvaal, where he was a member of ten Currie Cup winning sides, and in England for Nottinghamshire, where as captain he led the county to Championship titles in 1981 and 1987.

Rice joined Nottinghamshire in 1975, filling the vacancy in the county eleven left by another legendary all-rounder, Garfield Sobers. Rice passed away on July 28, Sobers’ 79th birthday.

In 283 games for Notts, Rice scored 17053 runs and took 476 wickets. His official career stats show 26331 runs (at 40.95) and 930 wickets (at 22.49) in first-class matches, and 13474 runs (at 37.32) and 517 wickets (at 22.64) in “List A” limited-over games. But there is a season missing from those stats.

The World Series Cricket years – 1977-78 and 1978-79 – the privately-run tournament under the ownership of Kerry Packer’s companies, saw some high standards of cricket with innovative conditions of play. Under the terms ending the conflict between WSC and official governing bodies, WSC supertests were not to be included in Test or first-class statistics. (Limited-over stats were still more than a decade away from being formally organised.)

Clive Rice was contracted to play for “WSC World” in the 1978-79 season, and it is that summer that provides most of my personal recollections of the all-rounder in action. Thirty-one matches in all played by Rice under the WSC banner in New Zealand and Australia over a three-month period. In my opinion four of these games should be in his first-class record, and probably eighteen should have List A status. One day I hope this may be corrected.

It is one of the WSC Supertests that produced one of Rice’s most unsung honours, Man of the Match in perhaps the strongest World XI ever assembled, crushing a mighty West Indian side by an innings in a day-night Supertest at the Sydney Cricket Ground just before Christmas 1978.

It was a truly mighty ensemble, led by Asif Iqbal and also including Barry Richards, Majid Khan, Javed Miandad, Zaheer Abbas, Mike Procter, Imran Khan, Alan Knott (batting at nine!), Garth Le Roux and Derek Underwood. Rice’s 83, two wickets and a catch were enough to earn the Man of the Match among many great efforts.

Rice is the first member of that mighty WSC World XI to die, although Eddie Barlow and Tony Greig, who died in 2005 and 2012 respectively, played for the World in other Supertests of that series. Roy Fredericks is the only member of the defeated WSC West Indies to have passed on to date.

There is so little documentation online of that game, which pre-dates next November’s inaugural day-night Test in Adelaide by almost 37 years. The National Library of Australia’s excellent Trove archive has digitised copies of reports of the match from the Canberra Times (day 1 | day 2 | day 3).

A comprehensive list of Clive Rice’s first-class and List A matches can be found on Cricketarchive. His matches for World Series Cricket can be found on their list of his Miscellaneous Matches.

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