Home 80s & 90s Cricket South Africa in the 80s, extra Rice please

South Africa in the 80s, extra Rice please

by Daniel Wood

Due to things that I was too innocent to understand there was no such thing as England v South Africa when I was growing up. The closest thing we had to that was a couple of excitingly named but ill-conceived “Rebel Tours” which, as well as stirring up bad feeling and controversy, cut or truncated the Test careers of many a famous name, both English and those from all over the world.

Being too young to have seen Barry Richards and Graeme Pollock my first sight of the never say die attitude and the exciting, attacking batting of the South Africans came from those within the England team. Allan Lamb and Robin Smith were two of my favourite players growing up and they followed a well-trodden path for South Africans at the time of playing for a country other than the one of their birth which, of course, was impossible between 1970 and 1991 with the Proteas banned from international cricket.

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When the first series between England and South Africa of my lifetime came around in 1994 it was England’s Zimbabwean Graeme Hick that shone with the bat and Devon Malcolm’s historic, record-breaking 9-57 at The Oval meant the spoils were shared 1-1 in the three-match series. For the visitors Jonty Rhodes’ fielding was a real breath of fresh air, totally exhilarating, Allan Donald’s bowling was terrifying and Fanie de Villiers had a funny name.

It was a warm summer dominated musically by Wet Wet Wet and England captain Mike Atherton, trying to keep his “hands and the ball” dry dry dry got himself into hot water at Lord’s when he landed himself in the middle of a ball-tampering scandal.

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Kepler Wessels, who I had first seen playing international cricket in this country 9 years previously in his guise as an Australian opener, played his last Test for the country of his birth in the final Test of the summer.

For those that didn’t choose to represent a different country it’s a case of “what might have been” in the international arena. Judging by how prolific several of them were in county cricket in the 80s they would have shone. Jimmy Cook, who did play a handful of international games in the twilight of his career, Ken McEwan was a monster run getter for Essex, Steve Jefferies and Garth Le Roux more than able pacemen and of course the brilliant Clive Rice.

Rice, widely regarded as one of the finest all-rounders of all-time was omitted from South Africa’s 1992 World Cup squad at the age of 42. Had they eligible to play in the 1983 or 1987 version then Rice would have been a shoo-in. He captained Nottinghamshire from 1979-1987 and alongside Richard Hadlee led the county to two championships, winning personal accolades along the way.

Cruelly, his career ran alongside his country’s ban from international cricket almost exactly in terms of years. With a batting average of nearly 41 and bowling average of 22 he was a realistic and worthy adversary of all the other great all-rounders of the time. It was a halcyon period but Rice comfortably holds his own with Botham, Kapil Dev, Imran and Richard Hadlee.

This summer’s three-match Test Series will be crammed into about 20 calendar days and whilst no doubt will entertain won’t live long in the memory. Nothing much seems to these days in a world of rollercoaster cricket played at breakneck speed.

Follow me on Twitter at: @80s90sCricket

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