The County Ground at New Road, Worcester needs no introduction as a haven for cricket nostalgics. The charming, flood-ravaged Victorian pavilion may have gone but the willows and horse chestnuts, tiny grandstands and protected view of the Gothic cathedral on the banks of the River Severn preserve the cherished belief that the essence of English county cricket resides there.
Worcestershire see themselves as a family club – in their case more than a throwaway line from the marketing department. In the early 1900s, seven of the side were called Foster, all brothers. Now no family name carries such resonance as D'Oliveira and in the coming weeks – the new season starts, unprecedentedly early, on Thursday – there will be a new wave of nostalgia when Brett, the 20-year-old grandson of Basil, makes his home debut, the third generation in the D'Oliveira line to wear the Pears badge.
There will be an added poignancy. After more than a decade stricken with Parkinson's disease, Basil D'Oliveira died in November at the age of 80. His memorial service in January attracted more than 1,000 to the Cathedral, many to acknowledge his role in the political turmoil of 1968 when his selection in the MCC squad to tour South Africa was blocked by the John Vorster government, sparking the sporting boycott many credit with breaking the apartheid regime. It was a response, according to Damian D'Oliveira – Basil's son and Brett's father – that overwhelmed the family.
"The cards we received, the messages of condolence, the emails – it was quite amazing," Damian said. "I had something like 800 messages on my phone, let alone the stuff that came in via the club and via the website we set up. It obviously had a bigger impact than we ever thought. There was no way we could answer them all, which is why you are grateful for an opportunity like this."
Basil, categorised as "Cape coloured" in his native land, played for Worcestershire from 1964-80 and earned 44 Test caps. He had left Cape Town to join Middleton in the Lancashire League in 1960, while his wife Naomi was pregnant with Damian. He himself played for the county from 1982-95 and is now their academy director and spin bowling coach, in which roles he has worked with Brett.
"I'm proud as punch to have Brett following in the line," Damian said. "I think it is the first club to have a third generation from the same family. His older brothers, Marcus and Dominic, both played here in age-group cricket but Brett's just been a bit more serious about taking it further. He has worked really hard and he deserves the opportunity.
"I've probably been tougher on him than some of the other academy boys. Our relationship is the opposite to mine with my father. When he was coach and I was a player we'd always be in separate nets, but as spin bowling coach I have to work with Brett.
"But the last thing I would want anyone to think is that he has got a contract here because of his name. He hasn't. It is almost like you have to justify him being here so he does put in extra work, but he doesn't shirk it."
Brett, a middle-order batsman and leg-spinner, made his county debut in a 40-over match against Yorkshire at Headingley last August, a week after signing his first professional contract. Memories of his grandfather will be with him when he plays at New Road for the first time.
"I never really thought of him as anyone but my grandfather," he said. "I used to bowl at him in his garden when I was young – I got him out once and he wasn't too pleased – and I remember that he always used to sit in the same chair in the bar here.
"But it does make me proud knowing what happened as a result of him being picked for England, to think that he was my grandad.
"I was always down here. I loved the thought of playing cricket and now I'm getting the opportunity. And, of course, like anyone starting out I'd love one day to play for England."
Brett has been back to the St Augustine's club where his grandfather played when he lived in the segregated community in the Signal Hill area of Cape Town. He is the fourth generation of the family to play for them.
"My father's father, Lewis, played there back in the 1950s," Damian recalled. "I remember the two of them around our kitchen table, my grandad asking my dad how many sixes he got, then criticising him for hitting too many balls in the air.
"We have always stayed in contact with St Augustine's and we went back last year. We had to interrupt Brett's stay there after only a few weeks when my father passed away but I hope he will be able to go back."Reuse content