Obituary: Clive Rice, cricket player

Clive Rice, South African cricketer who captained Scotland as an overseas professional. Picture: PA
Clive Rice, South African cricketer who captained Scotland as an overseas professional. Picture: PA
Have your say

Born: 23 July, 1949, in Johannesburg, South Africa. Died: 28 July, 2015, in Cape Town, South Africa, aged 66.

One of South Africa’s most famous cricketers, Clive Rice, who captained Scotland as overseas professional in 1988 and 1989 while also playing for the West of Scotland club, has died five days after his 66th birthday.

It was his misfortune and the source of much disappointment for him that his peak playing years in the 1970s and 80s coincided with his country’s exclusion from international sport because of Apartheid, meaning he was denied Test status, which he richly deserved.

Authorities on the game consider him as one of the world’s best all-rounders of that period, bracketing him alongside Ian Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran Khan and Sir Richard Hadlee – indeed in four single-wicket world all-rounders’ competitions against these rivals and Malcolm Marshall, he won three of them.

Although denied Test status, his was a rich CV, leading Nottinghamshire to two county championship titles, Transvaal to five Currie Cup wins, playing for the Rest of the World in Packer’s World Series cricket and for unofficial South Africa teams against rebel tourist elevens, captaining Scotland and captain of South Africa when they played three One-Day Internationals against India on the county’s return from Apartheid isolation.

He was also selected to play for South Africa in their tour of Australia planned for 1971/2, in which he would have won a Test place but which was cancelled in the wake of the Apartheid sporting ban.

After being chosen for that tour, Rice was quoted as saying: “I couldn’t speak after that selection, literally. It was a dream come true.”

Cricket was the driving force of his life. He was an aggressive, hard-nosed competitor on the field but a softly spoken, sociable gent off it. For years he thrived on playing the game 12 months a year, for Transvaal in our winters and for Nottinghamshire in the summers.

Educated at St John’s College in Johannesburg, where his cricketing potential was first nurtured, he went on to play for the Bedfordview club before earning his first “cap” for Transvaal in 1969.

He then moved to England in 1973 to play as the pro for Lancashire League club side Ramsbottom.

His performances attracted Nottinghamshire who signed him in 1975 as a replacement for Gary Sobers, the world’s best cricketer. What was considered a gamble by some soon paid off as Rice set about in his single-minded way transforming the club’s fortunes.

“People were just aimlessly going through the motions,” he later recalled of those early years at Trent Bridge. Appointed captain a few years later, in 1981 he led the county to their first championship success since 1929, earning himself the accolade of Wisden cricketer of the year.

In 1987 he again led Notts to the county title. In these achievements he was ably supported by Richard Hadlee, the pair of them forming a devastating opening bowling duo the like of which had not been seen in the county game since Notts’ own legendary Larwood and Voce of 50 years previous.

In achieving this success he had had to overcome the ignominy of being stripped of the captaincy after first being appointed and thereafter to endure the stress and uncertainty of High Court litigation.

Having declared in 1978 his intent to play in the Kerry Packer World Series cricket, Notts deposed him as captain and sacked him.

In the ensuing court proceedings, which he initiated, supported by Packer, he was successful, with the court ruling that to ban players for participating in the World Series amounted to restraint of trade. He was reinstated by Notts which paved the way for the success to come.

During the 1980s he also played several times for unofficial “South Africa” elevens against teams of “rebel” tourists who had ignored their own federations’ bans on playing in South Africa.

This led some to question his stance on Apartheid as it was seen to be supporting the regime. He also captained Transvaal to repeated Currie Cup wins, the major domestic provincial trophy in South Africa.

In 1988 and 89 he was contracted to play for Scotland as the overseas professional and did so nine times, captaining the side in each game. Neil Leitch, Scottish cricket historian and chief scorer commented: “Signing him was quite a coup for the sport here. He was a very dedicated, inspirational and effective captain whom the players looked up to, and he also had a fine line in dry wit.”

As part of his contract he also played for West of Scotland in Western Union games. Mark Gilchrist, then a young bowler for West, recalled: “It was a real privilege to play with Clive. Although he was a superstar he was really down to earth and very unassuming.

“Out on the square he was certainly there to win but in the bar afterwards was a very sociable bloke who had time for people. If you asked him, he was always happy to share his experiences of world-class players with you.”

In late 1991, once South Africa had been “readmitted” to international sport, Rice was chosen to lead them in three One-Day Internationals in India.

When interviewed after the first of these, in Calcutta in front of 100,000 fans, he stated: “Now I know how Neil Armstrong felt when he walked on the moon.”

He was optimistic about leading his country to the World Cup in 1992 but the selectors dashed his hopes by not selecting him, claiming he was too old.

After he finished playing in 1994 he held a number of cricket posts but latterly seemed to be disillusioned with the game because of the match-fixing scandals. He enjoyed golf and watching rugby as well as racing sports cars. Over the past 12 years he ran his own successful telecommunications company.

Having been diagnosed with a brain tumour aged 49, he underwent various treatments with trademark courage, while living life as fully as he could.

Mike Procter, another famous South African cricketer, commented: “Clive was a fighter like you can’t believe, he’s just got a heart the size of Africa, he was a remarkable man.”

Clive Rice is survived by wife Susan and a son and daughter.