A man for all reasons: cause, character and cricketer

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The Independent Online

It was testament to Basil D'Oliveira the man as well as the cricketer that he overcame his early struggles in England. He had left his wife behind in South Africa, pregnant with their first child, and could hardly lay bat on ball.

But he overcame all and from triumph in the leagues to immediate success with Worcestershire, he was picked for England in June 1966 against West Indies. It was and it remains an incredible story.

Indian nobility had played for England before in the shape of Ranjitsinhji and Duleepsinhji but that was in a different part of the century and this was a non-English, non-white cricketer brought up in poverty playing the game despite the lack of support he had received.

But his batting for Worcestershire had demanded selection and at Lord's for the second Test of the summer he was in.

That first innings exhibited his calmness in difficult circumstances. England were up against it and he dug in, before being dismissed in odd fashion when his partner drove a ball which hit D'Oliveira on the boot and rebounded to the stumps. Thinking he was out D'Oliveira made no attempt to regain his ground and the bowler, Wes Hall, calmly gathered the ball and then removed a stump to run out D'Oliveira as the (arcane) law required.

Somehow, it imprinted Dolly further on the public consciousness. He made a mark in the matches which followed with middle-order scores which provided proper resistance against rampant opponents.

The following summer against India he made his maiden Test hundred, though his match-saving 81 against Pakistan told more about the sort of batsman he was. Although he did not cover himself in glory on the West Indies tour he was to score three more Test hundreds.

They were against Australia at home in 1968, an innings which provoked furore when he was subsequently omitted from the South Africa tour party; doggedly against Pakistan that winter on the tour that replaced South Africa; and with equal determination in Adelaide to ensure a draw on England's way to regaining the Ashes in 1970-71. Basil D'Oliveira was not only a cause célêbre, he was a considerable cricketer.