Clive Rice’s Indian adventure

Among Clive Rice’s defining personality traits was something that was a corollary of the age in which he constructed his playing career. There was an inherent toughness and optimism matched by few. His death on Tuesday resulted from complications from sepsis, a disease which had him in pain for more than a decade, but the smile on his face and a general keenness to life was palpable whenever he spoke to writers or journalists about his health. Severe pain was described accurately but jovially as “I’d rather play rugby against the All Blacks”. The process to recovery, to resume golf and driving, was happily spoken about. READ: Clive Rice: The most experienced First-Class and List A cricketer from South Africa

This was not a big surprise: he kept playing with passion amid the hopelessness of cricketing sanction against South Africa for their Apartheid policy for two decades, and calmly maintained: “We were optimistic that things would be sorted out and we would get the opportunity to play Test cricket soon.” In a surreal, eventful few months, his patience was rewarded but before it could elevate to a fairytale, it seemed, his quota ended.

The racial regime gave way to a united South Africa, and India requested their cricket board for a bilateral limited-overs series in India to resume their international journey after 21 years of pause. Rice was 42, but he was still a formidable leader on the cricket field, folding his hands in a Namaste at the watershed moment in his country’s cricket, to a warm, delirious crowd at Eden Gardens, Calcutta. There were flowers, garlands and banners everywhere in the city greeting them when they landed from South Africa, all the way to their hotel accommodation. READ– Clive Rice: 15 facts about the champion

Considering the overwhelming response from India, a country the South Africans feared would consider them persona non-grata for obvious reasons, the monumentality of the occasion and unfamiliarity of pitch conditions, they played well. Rice said, “Well, a lot of guys — like Peter Kirsten, Adrian Kuiper, Kepler Wessels and myself — had stayed up to speed. We used to face men like Michael Holding, Andy Roberts and Joel Garner in the county. At home, the guys used to face Sylvester Clarke, Mike Procter, Garth le Roux, me. All of us continued to improve and kept the standards up to the mark. In India, with the World Cup (1992) coming up soon, we wanted to see how far we had regressed in international cricket. In fact, we had not regressed at all.”

Allan Donald, then in the early days of his career as a fast bowler, and Kepler Wessels, shone in bowling and batting respectively: they were the leading wicket-taker and run-getter respectively from the three One-Day Internationals (ODIs). The Eden Gardens wicket, found Rice, was not ideal: “The only disappointment was the pitch. It was not a good one-day wicket. It was breaking up from the beginning. After the game, Kapil Dev asked me why I did not complain about the pitch. I said that both the teams had to play on the same wicket. It was not unfair, just disappointing.”READ: Clive Rice mastered cricket, but could not conquer time

South Africa lost the game by three wickets despite Donald’s five-for. They fell short in the next ODI at Gwalior by 38 runs, thereby conceding the series, but eventually defeated the home side in a remarkable run-chase of 288 in Delhi. The conditions suited them, for South Africans, unlike the hosts, had been exposed to more day-night matches. Rice contributed 14 and 12 in the two innings he batted, in the first two one-dayers, and took 2 wickets from the 23 overs he bowled in the series: not quite very memorable performances.

The tour was so monumental that Rice was compelled to compare it with the astronaut Neil Armstrong’s landing on the moon. But the euphoria, at least for his personal career, was short-lived. He was not named in the squad for the subsequent World Cup in Australia and New Zealand. Rice, in his typical straightforward manner, attributed it to behind-the-scene politics by national selector Peter van der Merwe. READ: Dear Australian batsmen, will you stop letting your bowlers down in Ashes 2015?

Life, on the other hand, went on for the man who had no fuss. Normalcy was restored again as he geared himself to grind for another two years in domestic cricket. By this time the formidable Transvaal player had moved to Natal, where he played alongside old foe Malcolm Marshall.

Rice made a good career, was revered the world over due to its quality, but his international sojourn was limited to those few surreal days in India. Perhaps that was what was destined for him: an unbelievable privilege of being chosen to create history for his country, in an exotic foreign land, but no more.