Published on January 31st, 2018 | by Arunabha Sengupta


Obituary: Clive van Ryneveld, one of the greatest all-round sportsmen

“Clive van Ryneveld passed away on January 29, 2018, a month and a bit before his 90th birthday”.

Neil Adcock could be nasty. And his partner in crime Peter Heine was downright fearsome.

The Australian batsmen were having a torrid time at Port Elizabeth. Adcock sent down bumper after bumper, and Colin McDonald just about managed to evade them, escaping debilitating injury by a whisker on each occasion. The tourists required just 68 runs to win, but both Adcock and Heine were steaming in.

But, captain Clive van Ryneveld intervened. One bouncer per eight-ball over was the limit, he stressed.

In Adcock’s following over, more bouncers followed, and McDonald was caught at slip, fending at one that rose disconcertingly.

And van Ryneveld took his spearhead off the attack. Both Adcock and Heine fumed, but the skipper was having none of it.

The captain had not had much time to prepare for the series. He was setting up his law practice. A member of the United Party, he had also been elected to the parliament a couple of months before the start of the tour. His constituency was 600 miles away in East London, making things a logistic monstrosity.

A short net session on the first day of each Test match was all that his preparation had amounted to. The results showed. His returns in the 5-Test series were 43 runs at 21.50 and 2 wickets at 58.50 apiece. Australia triumphed 3-0. Ryneveld did not play any more Test cricket. He simply did not have the time.

But there were ways in which he had influenced the series, and all of them laudatory.

For example, when Neil Harvey had thought that the ball had crossed the fine leg boundary, and Hugh Tayfield, that great off-spinner, had speared in the return insisting that it had not. Ryneveld had received the ball with Harvey way out of ground. He had removed the bails but had refused to appeal.

But, no, Ryneveld was not just a good bloke who just stood for sportsmanship.

He could be combative as well.

He ran with speed, swerve and plenty of dash in his days as a rugby centre three-quarter. That was earlier when he was at Oxford. He represented the Oxford Rugby Football Club in the Varsity match in three consecutive years from 1947 to 1949. The final year saw him representing England in the Five-Nations Cup. He played in all the four matches and scored three tries.

Thus he was a double-international who played different sports for different countries, a rare breed.

He earned his blues in both rugby and cricket at Oxford. In the Varsity cricket match at Lord’s in 1948, he captured 7 for 57 in the second innings with his leg-breaks and googlies. He captained the University side in his last year. His stint at the helm of Oxford included victories against Yorkshire and the famous Kiwi 49-ers. It was the only loss for the New Zealanders that summer.

Before the Oxford days, van Ryneveld had been a star in both the sports at the Diocesan College in Cape Town. Even before he had gone to Oxford as a Rhodes scholar, Ryneveld had made his debut in First Class cricket for Western Province, scoring 90 unbeaten runs against Rhodesia in the second innings.

Ryneveld returned to South Africa with a degree in Law. And he rejoined Western Province as captain. Soon he was playing for the country, touring England with Dudley Nourse’s men in 1951.

Commitments in the profession of Law prevented van Ryneveld from touring with Jack Cheetham’s men to Australia, but he did play the home series against New Zealand in 1953-54 with all-round success. And in 1955-56, he led Western Province to a memorable Currie Cup triumph.

When Jackie McGlew, the man set to captain South Africa against England in 1956-57, suffered a shoulder injury, van Ryneveld stepped in. In the process, he had to compromise on the duration of his honeymoon. But he led with plenty of success, holding the immensely strong English team led by Peter May to a 2-2 draw.

724 runs at 26.81 and 17 wickets at 39.47 are not remarkable figures. But given that van Ryneveld was an all-round sportsman and his cricket was often played between his commitments as a practitioner of law and an MP, it does seem quite a feat.

As a batsman van Ryneveld generally preferred to come in at No 7 or No 8, and could be an excellent driver of the ball. He used his height and reach to excellent effect. As a leg-spinner, he was generally the fifth bowler to be tried, especially with Adcock, Heine, Tayfield and Trevor Goddard in the line-up. But sometimes he could be effective as well, especially against the perennially-weak-against-spin New Zealanders.

As a youngster, van Ryneveld used his athleticism to become a superb fielder at cover-point. Later, as captain, he preferred the mid-off, always at hand for a chat with the bowler. For Tayfield he often perched in the leg trap, mostly behind the wicket.

After his cricketing days, he took his all-round abilities to a new level by becoming one of the founders of the Progressive Party, demonstrating that there were enough negative feelings towards apartheid among the white communities of South Africa. After the 1961 elections, which saw the Progressive Party losing all seats but one, van Ryneveld returned to his law practice in Cape Town.

He did represent plenty of black Africans, including five accused in the Paarl Riots. Later he gravitated to the Merchant Bank.

Till late in his life, van Ryneveld remained a passionate follower of cricket, supportive of all the modern innovations such as Hawkeye and DRS. He also frequently checked online cricket sites for statistics.

In 2011 he published his memoirs, 20th Century All-rounder.

Clive van Ryneveld passed away on January 29, 2018, a month and a bit before his 90th birthday.

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About the Author


Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and the author of Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets @senantix.

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