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Steering the Mean Machine

Submitted by on Saturday, 13 December 2008One Comment
Steering the Mean Machine

Clive Rice — captain of a legendary Transvaal team and veteran of the toughest cricket series on the planet — relishes complicated players, and reckons 20/20 is a welcome innovation.

Seve Ballesteros has been in the news lately because he has a brain tumour; you also suffered from one. What happened in your case?

The first symptom was I couldn’t hear when I was on my cell phone. I kept turning up the volume and wondering what was wrong. But then when I walked down the passage at home, I would occasionally bump into the wall, which was a bit disconcerting. This was in about 1997.

How quickly did the symptoms appear?

It all happened over about six months. One day I was playing in a benefit match for Andrew Hudson and a catch was hit to me on the boundary. Suddenly I found I was ‘hoping,’ my hands were in the right spot – and that wasn’t me – I always knew my hands were in the right place (laughs)!! I caught it, but I realised something was wrong. Initially it was diagnosed as a middle ear infection. But then I played in a Masters versus the Rest of the World match in Cape Town. I missed a catch by about three metres and nearly knocked myself out on the ground. So I realised it was a bit more serious than a middle ear problem.

What did you do?

I asked for an MRI scan and they found this tumour growing out of my acoustic nerve. It had to come out because it was 4 cm in size. I had it removed in Germany, because they regularly did these types of procedures there – it was a six hour operation – but apart from being deaf in one ear now, I have no other lasting effects. Fortunately the tumour wasn’t malignant. Unfortunately Seve’s condition sounds a bit more serious than mine was.

How do you feel about missing out on a proper international cricket career?

You know I would like to have raced Formula One; I would like to have played at Wimbledon; I would have loved to have played at Twickenham – but you can’t do it, so you can’t do it. I have better things to do with my time than carry around regrets. Of course I would have liked to have found out how good I would have been in the international environment – any sportsmen wants to know how good he was.

When you did test yourself in the World All-rounder Competitions, how did you do?

Well there were two in Hong Kong and two in England. The way it worked was that the runs you scored were divided by the number of times you went out. So it was simple; the object became not to get out. Also your runs were multiplied by how many wickets you got – at the first one in Taunton, when I got Malcolm Marshall out three times and Botham out first ball, this horse had bolted; I was long gone (laughs). I also won the second competition – the third one I lost to Imran Khan at the Hong Kong Cricket Club and I won the fourth at Kowloon Cricket Club. But it would have been nice to test myself at an international level in normal competition.

Didn’t you also play your last game of cricket in Hong Kong?

Yes, about two years ago I played in a charity match there. When you find five metres a really long run up; when your shoulder hurts for months afterwards; when you get a haematoma every time the ball hits you anywhere and you can’t bowl anything like you used to; then it’s time to pack it in. The whole game I kept saying to myself, ‘What am I doing?’ (Laughs).

In 1991 when South Africa came out of isolation to play India in three One Day Internationals, what did you find the biggest problem?

Playing in front of 90,000 people, which we did in the first match, wasn’t a problem. It was trying to focus on winning. I wanted to win our first game back and show the rest of the world that, although we might have been in isolation, we were still up to speed. Unfortunately that wasn’t what our officials were really interested in. They were just happy we were getting back into international cricket; the back-end management was diabolical. It only sort of came right by the third game, which we won. We lost the first two.

Why didn’t you then take the team to the World Cup – what happened?

Peter van de Merwe (selector) and I never saw eye to eye. He operated on a very amateur basis. We had huge fights when we played against the Australians in the rebel series. Then one day after we had done all the preparations for the World Cup, he called and said I was not going to be selected. It was hugely irritating and very disappointing.

Given that you became a legend in English county cricket with Nottinghamshire, do you regret that you never did an ‘Allan Lamb’ and played for England?

You know Allan Lamb was never picked to play for South Africa, but I was picked to go to Australia in 1972. So I was seen as a South African. I don’t think it would have worked.

But you did play for Scotland?

Yes, I captained them in the NatWest Trophy and the Benson & Hedges – maybe I’m a Scottish international (laughs)? That was an experience. Suffice to say, it was seriously, seriously amateur.

Tell me about your involvement with Kevin Peterson, (England cricket captain).

When I was chairman of SA Schools Selection, I saw him play, but because he was batting number six for Natal Schools, he never really got a chance to show how good he was. But there was definitely something there. Then I saw him playing for Natal and he, with Sean Pollock won a game and I knew then he could play. Later I sent him a contract to play for Nottinghamshire – I said, ‘I don’t need you to do a trial and in four years time I’ll have you playing for England’ – his mother had an English passport. I wanted complicated guys like him. I had had Chris Broad, Derek Randall and Eddie Hemmings – complicated, both mentally and in a cricketing sense. In the ‘Mean Machine,’ I had had Allan Kourie, Ray Jennings and players like that – very confident; very good players; but complicated. Even now I constantly text Kevin with advice – we get on very well.

What was your formula for dealing with those ‘complicated’ guys?

You find out their strengths and weaknesses. They will naturally go both ways – into their strengths; into their weaknesses. So you bring their strengths out and you get them focussed on those strengths. Then when they are successful, they listen to you because the bad days aren’t happening so often; and they focus more on their strengths; and they are more successful; and so it feeds on itself.

What are your views on the upcoming tests against Australia?

Well I think the key is Steyn and Morkell have to fire and Ntini and Kallis have to back them up big time. Our batting line up is reasonably good, but unfortunately now that Sean has gone, we don’t have an all rounder to give us that extra batsman. Boucher knows that when the bloke above him goes out, he is on his own. But in Australia it is a tough contest. I also think our warm-up to the series – playing against Bangladesh – was very poor. Australia has just warmed up by beating New Zealand, who are much better opposition than Bangladesh.

Talking about tough cricket, you were involved in Kerry Packer’s World Series, which became known for its very tough cricket. Tell me about the incident with Joel Garner.

We were batting against the West Indies and it was the quickest wicket I have ever played on. And of course we had the delight of facing Andy Roberts, Joel Garner, Michael Holding and Wayne Daniel on this unbelievably fast track. Then Andy Roberts hit Majid Khan on the cheek and gave him a depressed cheek bone. It was all caved in. So at the changeover Tony Greig called his bowlers, Imran Khan, Garth Le Roux, Mike Proctor and myself and said, ‘You see what they have done to Majid? We will get them back.’ Well just like us, the Windies struggled with the wicket; it was just so damn quick. Anyway at about 75 for 9, with four balls left in the over, Joel Garner came out to bat. Tony shouted across to me, ‘I want 4 bouncers…’ My first ball was a bouncer and it was a good one – it was going straight for Joel’s Adam’s apple (laughs). It smashed into his hand, sent his bat to midwicket and his gloves almost to extra cover. Joel just turned, picked up his bat, his gloves and walked off the field.

What was Kerry Packer’s reaction?

I thought he was going to throw me out of the Series, but he congratulated us on a wonderful game. That was tough, tough cricket. It made test cricket look easy. When you speak to Viv Richards, or any of the guys, they will tell you it was the hardest cricket any of them ever played. Interestingly those World Series cricket records don’t exist today.

How do you feel about that?

Petty -it is just so petty.

You were captain of The ‘Mean Machine’ (Transvaal), which was probably one of the best cricket teams in the world; what made it so good?

The biggest thing in that team was that we refused to let our team mates down. Not letting one another down, was everything. I suppose there was also the fact that we always knew ‘how’ we were going to beat our opposition. I mean Western Province had a good team, but they never knew ‘how’ they were going to beat us. We had plan A, plan B and plan C. They just had plan A, which was to pitch up and play, but that was it. We were ruthless in doing our individual bits so as not to let each other down.

To digress from cricket for a moment; you did a bit of motor racing in your time – how good do you think you could have been?

I used to race in a team with Ben Morgenrood, who I could never catch. There was always about 15m I couldn’t make up on him. He used to prepare my car for me and it was only when in one race, I had to swop cars with him because he had lost a gear, did I realise how much faster his car was than mine (laughs). All little things, like he never had a rev limiter on his; the seat was more in the middle of the car so it was better balanced; little things which I reckon gave him the 15m I couldn’t make up. But like any sport, motor racing requires 100% commitment to it and though I was committed, I couldn’t give all my time to it. I also think if you are really going to get into it, you have to be built like a jockey. The extra kilos of being a big guy are a problem.

One of the more obscure bits of fame you attracted was for the ‘naked’ photograph of you and a cricket bat. What was that all about?

(Laughs) That caused an unbelievable stir. I was doing an advertisement for Olympic Sports and before they took a picture of me with their sportswear on, they said, ‘Why don’t you pose with nothing on, just the bat?’ The next thing I was on the front page of the Sunday Times here and of various British newspapers. Then it got banned and it got even more publicity. Then it was unbanned and suddenly I was the centrespread of Scope magazine (laughs). Things were much more conservative in South Africa in those days.

What are your views on 20/20 cricket?

The introduction of one day cricket in the late 60′s/ early 70′s was a huge injection of change into cricket. Packer added a whole lot of stuff in coloured clothing, white balls and helmets, it was a huge change. Now 20/20 is doing the same thing and I’m a very much in favour of it. Like for instance when you see batsmen hitting the ball with a little bit of width over backward point; we didn’t even think about trying to do that. I think 20/20 will take cricket into a whole new level of excitement and interest in the game.

One Comment »

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