There’s hardly an irony that the province of Transvaal in South Africa is specifically recognised for its large deposits of gold. Not to forget huge diamond reserves, first discovered back in 1868. To a country that follows Cricket with boundless passion, it was Transvaal that provided Proteas with legends like Clive Rice, Graeme Pollock, and David Dyer.
They’re the Botham, Gower, and Paul Collingwood or the Jimmy Amarnath, Ganguly, and Vishwanath in English and Indian cricket parlance, respectively.
But for a nation replete with wildlife majesty and its sheer diversity, there also emerged a ‘Tiger‘ from Transvaal.
Herbert Roy Lance, born in 1940, was, arguably speaking, one of the greatest all-rounders exported by Transvaal to the Proteas unit, whose first-class exploits overshadowed and weighed supreme over a Test career that was brief and captivating, if not necessarily sunny bright.
A medium pacer who bowled with nagging consistency and on top of it, a batsman who had fierce power, Tiger Lance was Andrew Flintoff meets Justin Kemp in an era that had little to do with colored jerseys or inventive stroke-making.
But his interesting career that merits greater introspection and factually speaking, more reportage than afforded all these years, was never going to be easy.
Imagine to break into a side and rub shoulders along with legends like Eddie Barlow, Mike Procter, and Peter Pollock?
Perhaps running on broken glass would’ve come easy.
Yet, Tiger Lance, though, hugely supported by a mentor-like figure in Ali Bacher, though two years younger than the Pretoria-born, broke into the Test fray, taking his time before bolting to notable success in the game’s most arduous format.
From 1960 onwards until the end of 1970, South Africa played a total of 35 Tests. Of these, the powerfully-built Tiger Lance played just 13 games. For his team, the problem in a decade that produced prodigious talents, you’d wonder, may not have been one of its dearth but that of plenty.
And where to any cricketer, his debut game is perhaps the most important chapters of his life, a life-changing event of sorts, Tiger Lance’s debut was a rather abrupt one.
Not afforded the glory of being telephoned well in advance that, “man you’re in, get ready,” Lance was afforded a chance only at the behest of South Africa’s regular opener Tom Pithey getting injured.
Drafted into the lower-middle order, although he’d make a forgettable 7, it was the red ball with which Tiger Lance would make the Kiwis bite the dust.
An impressive 3-for in his very first outing at the highest annals of the sport, he would become the first Protea bowler to strike in the New Zealand inning, removing Noel McGregor, post which he’d take two wickets down the order.
Collecting another from the game, Tiger Lance emerged with a four-for upon his Test debut, something that would make a statement of intent and purpose.
Johannesburg noted that there appeared a man who wasn’t going to wander as the Wanderers crowd applauded a 21-year-old who was in business in a side featuring greats- McGlew, Barlow, Waite and MacLean.
But his greatest cricketing moment came nearly half a decade later after wielding the bat and holding the red cherry and that too, against a daunting opponent.
In the winter of 1967, an Australia led by Bob Simpson, starring an esteemed collection of talents in Ian Chappel, Bill Lawry, Keith Stackpole arrived on South African shores.
And they were made to taste their own medicine at Jo’burg.
The burly Tiger Lance, who by then had matured into an accomplished number 5 welcomed the Aussies with a 124-ball stay at the crease for a dogged 44.
In his second outing with the bat, he struck a crafty 70, facing nearly 200 balls.
With precise focus and power-hitting, he assisted the Proteas with a 233 run win in a series where the hosts hammered the Kangaroos akin to a vicious blow to the whiplash.
But there was an element of historic achievement for Tiger’s side- it were to be South Africa’s first series win over the Australians and that a mighty emerging all-rounder played his useful part it in was worth pop opening one champagne bottle too many.
Moreover, to this day, he holds a special Transvaal record that hasn’t been forgotten.
After having been drafted into the South African Test side, Tiger Lance gave early indication of his proclivity to continue excelling in the domestic level. In the 1965-66 Currie Cup, facing Natal, who posted a massive 385 with Procter and Goddard doing the damage, it was highly doubtful if Transvaal would even get close to the total.
But the brave Tiger Lance had other ideas; starring in a highest-tenth wicket stand, the batsman struck 168 on his own.
Not a soothsayer and definitely not someone whose words matched that of a clairvoyant, there’s an uncanniness to Tiger Lance’s words in 2008, two years before his death, that have since become very Urban Legend-like.
A fierce competitor on the field but equally light-hearted off it, whilst attending the funeral of dear friend Lindsay-Smith, in October 2008, Tiger Lance remarked to Ali Bacher rather wittingly- “Mate, let’s pad up, we are next!”
Sadly enough, two years later, in 2010, he met with a severe car accident, which would later claim in life.
But a life spent always busily in midst of the action, it had it be an action-packed albeit heartbreaking scene that claimed one of the poster boys of South African cricket from the Sixties.
Someone who didn’t rest his bat against the wall before firing 5,336 first-class runs and clinching 167 wickets.
Gone but never forgotten- we pay a sincere homage to a man who lived life bravely as also freely akin to a tiger who roams about as the true king.