Unsung hero of cricket’s great all-rounders

They had this hilarious show on Indian television called School Quiz Olympiad, hosted by cricket commentator Harsha Bhogle.

Brainy scholars from all over the country took part, mostly bespectacled little chaps, dressed smartly in their school blazers. What made the whole set-up even funnier was that Bhogle looked like a big nerd among all the little ones.

But boy, in true bookworm style, these tiny fellows where sharp. When it came to cricket statistics, my jaw dropped at the sheer volume of numbers they had memorised. Whether it was Courtney Walsh’s Test average or Steve Waugh’s one-day strike rate, it seemed like they knew it all to the third decimal place.

If you where to ask these tiny geniuses to name the greatest all-rounders the game has produced, they would come up with the usual suspects in a flash. Names such as Sir Garfield Sobers, Ian Botham, Imran Khan, Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev, Shaun Pollock and Jacques Kallis. Each player’s membership to however many thousand-runs and hundred-wickets clubs over different formats would be indicated.

One name that would not feature on these lists is that of Clive Rice, who died on Tuesday after a long struggle with a brain tumour. You see, they won’t find the former Proteas captain in the Test records because politics deprived him of playing cricket at that level. A Google search will show he played a paltry three one-day matches, taking two wickets and scoring 14 runs.

This generation never had the privilege of seeing Rice in action, but they also didn’t see Sobers play and very little of Hadlee, Botham, Khan and Dev. But yet those players will always top the charts in any debate because of their superior Test statistics.

South Africa’s sporting isolation had many casualties in many sports, but none were arguably as unlucky as Rice. You had stars like Barry Richards, who was also affected but managed to play four Tests before South Africa were sanctioned. At the other end of the spectrum, you had players such as Peter Kirsten, who could at least finish his career playing some Test cricket.

But not Rice. He wasn’t in the reckoning for the team that played in the last Test before isolation, against Australia in Port Elizabeth in March 1970, but was selected for the squad to tour Australia at the end of 1971, before the series was cancelled.

He captained his country two decades later in their one-day series against India, their first since readmission, only to be left out of the World Cup squad and the team for the subsequent tour to the West Indies in April 1992 – which included one Test. It means Rice missed his first and last chance to play Test cricket by a matter of months … on either side of two decades.

If we could use first-class stats in the all-rounder debate, Rice’s batting average of 40.95 is better than that of Hadlee, Botham, Khan, Dev and Pollock. His bowling average of 22.49 is better than that of Sobers, Botham, Dev, Pollock and Kallis.

This just goes to show that you can’t keep a good man down.

Rest in peace, Clive Edward Butler Rice.




today in print

today in print