Obituary: Clive Rice

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Clive Edward Butler RICE (23 July 1949 – 28 July 2015) was the face of South Africa’s re-entry to international cricket. Tragically, he was the first face of a board with whom he could never reconcile.

Rice never truly accepted the actions of the ‘post-isolation’ South African board, grounded as they were in ideas of quotas and disassociation from the past. Two years ago, following Cricket South Africa’s decision not to observe a minute’s silence for Neil Adcock and Peter van der Merwe, Rice described it as a “racist approach”, and said that CSA were not welcome at his funeral.

The views Rice held were never in any form condoning the past, but instead begged for tolerance. It wasn’t up to Neil Adcock and Peter van der Merwe, both outstanding sportsmen, to be in charge of the political structure of the nation they were born and raised in.

“The word apartheid has changed to ‘quota’,” was how Rice once put it to me.

But despite his underlying distaste and distrust of the CSA board, Rice was never embittered. He never played Test cricket, and while it was evident he was disappointed that the 20 years (from 1971 to 1991) of his peak coincided with isolation, he never displayed anger.

While Rice never reached Test status, he made a niche for himself – as so many South Africans did during that era – becoming a stalwart on the County circuit. Rice’s involvement in Nottinghamshire was so great – as a player, and as a captain – that by the end of his career, he was as much a part of Nottinghamshire’s cricketing legacy, the fabric of their history, as George Parr, Alfred Shaw, Arthur Shrewsbury, Harold Larwood, Derek Randall or today’s Chris Read.

After retiring from the game in 1994, Rice moved into coaching – initially, running the South African National Cricket Academy. It was only a few years aft that he returned to Trent Bridge. Mick Newell, his assistant coach then, and the man who succeeded him into the top job, described working alongside Rice as “a great honour.”

“We were all very excited when Clive said he was going to come back and coach because as a captain he’d been so inspirational. And he’d been a leader by example in terms of the way he wanted the game played, and he had the respect of all the players in the team. So it was an exciting period of time for us when he came back, and he was quite an inspirational figure in many ways.”

Eventually, Rice relinquished the role. Personality conflicts with senior players in the side him move on. Speaking to me about the situation, Rice said that there were “internal issues” relating to “mediocrity and friends.”

“I was upsetting the existence of friends trying to remain in the team,” Rice told me, “despite their sell-by date having expired.”

He moved into business before his ill-health in recent years. Rice continued to work, and continued to be the busy man he always had been, but eventually the sickness won over. His passing on Tuesday saw all those who knew him lament the passing of a great man, as well as a great cricketer.

A career encompassing so many varying aspects – pre-isolation domestic cricket, leading ‘South African’ XIs against the rebel sides of the 1970s and ‘80s, making a place for himself in England, involving himself with World Series Cricket, and finally being the first captain of a readmitted South Africa – will leave its own legacy, and that can be dealt with through the prism of history. That’s a legacy for time.

For many of us, Rice’s true legacy will be of a man with time for anyone. He would discuss and help however he could, and never displayed the arrogance or aloofness of so many former greats – his personality was totally at odds to several of the other heroes in the Nottinghamshire dressing room of the day.

That is best displayed in his utter admiration of those who have done good for others. From Nelson Mandela, to Mother Theresa, but also of the doctors who treated his brain cancer in India. He looked down on no-one.

And it’s that legacy which is the now. It doesn’t require the perspective of history, doesn’t require distance and time, won’t be a legacy found only in the black-and-white of text, ink and page.

Clive Rice will be remembered: as a great cricketer, as a great coach, as a great man. But for those of us who knew him – however briefly and however distantly – he’s not remembered as a great man, but is one.

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