The giant among cricket toughies

Another top all-rounder is declared out. After Tony Greig, it was Richie Benaud and now Clive Rice. The former South Africa captain died from septicaemia on Tuesday morning but his long battle with brain tumour caused him the most anxiety.

There is good reason to believe that he had conquered it and he showed the kind of warrior he was armed with an indomitable spirit and a will of steel.

A page from a World Series Cricket brochure published in Australia during the 1978-79 season. This piece on Clive Rice was written by former Australia captain and late television commentator, Richie Benaud
A page from a World Series Cricket brochure published in Australia during the 1978-79 season. This piece on Clive Rice was written by former Australia captain and late television commentator, Richie Benaud

He reminded me of former Tamil Nadu and India batman TE Srinivasan, who like Rice, endured brain tumour. In 2008, I met Srinivasan on one of his medical trips to Mumbai. All his utterances centred on being positive. At the heart of his great attitude was an earlier visit to the Tata Memorial hospital in Mumbai, where he saw kids coping with cancer. “When I saw those kids, I thought to myself, ‘at least I have lived for more than 50 years,’ ” he said, as he got ready for an evening walk on Marine Drive.

Srinivasan lived for another couple of years.

It’s amazing how positive cancer patients can be. I’ve heard a story about Malcolm Marshall’s reaction when he was told about his colon cancer. “Doc,” he is believed to have said, “you have just bowled me a bouncer, but let’s get on with it and tell me what needs to be done.”

Rudi Webster, the famous sports psychologist who served West Indies cricket well, provided another example of Marshall not losing his combative ways even at the height of his illness. Webster told an audience a few years ago: “A couple of months before Malcolm Marshall died from cancer (1999), Desmond Haynes and I played a golf game with him. He was extremely weak and in great pain during the game. He played poorly and Desmond started to tease him. On the 14th tee Malcolm told us that he would win the last five holes. We laughed at him and told him he was dreaming.

“Suddenly his swing changed and he went on to win the next four holes. A lucky chip-in by Desmond prevented him from winning the last hole. When I asked him how he turned his game around, he pointed to his head and said, ‘I believe in myself and in my game. In my mind, I saw myself winning those holes and once that happened, you were gone.’ ”

Back to Rice. He made it a point to share his experiences over the last few months with his Facebook friends. Every post was inspirational ever since the story about his cancer broke last February. Later that month, he undertook his first trip to Bangalore where he was treated by the CyberKnife Robotic Radiosurgery System at HCG Hospital.

Rice displayed a great sense of optimism. He wrote: “Getting ready for India. I can come back with a swing like Ernie Els. Thanks for all the messages and I will keep you posted.” He did come back, hit the golf course and walked all 18 holes. Like he said on May 11, he was, “really on the mend”.

Another trip to the Bangalore hospital in June for post-operation scans was fruitful. “The original tumour in my brain has been destroyed,” he declared. “There are no more lesions in my brain so hopefully that has been sorted out.” Another visit would have taken place next month had his lungs not been in good condition, but he had seen the last of the Garden City.

Rice’s toughness was one thing. His willingness to share his experiences on social media without caring too much about his privacy was quite something else. He even allowed a reporter to accompany him to Bangalore to do a programme on his treatment.

Cancer tested his fighting qualities, but never did he allow it to eat into his cricketing passion.

He was seething when South Africa lost to New Zealand in the 2015 World Cup semi-final although he did not back the Proteas in the first place to clinch the World Cup on their seventh attempt “I am sure we are not going to win. You cannot pick a world-beating team on quotas.”

Rice fought a good fight. His ‘failure-is-not-an-option’ credo stayed with him till the end. He was that sort of an individual. The opposition and teammates could see it from 22 yards. On November 19, 1978, Rice was battling a Dennis Lillee-led Australia attack to help World Series Cricket World XI win a one-day game at Auckland. His partner Alan Knott sees Rice hit in the ribs by Lillee. He runs to his partner to enquire about his condition and Rice just says, “fine” and carries on. His 46 helps World XI win a tight game. He had cracked a rib.

Clayton Murzello is mid-day’s Group Sports Editor

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