D'Oliveira's three weeks that gave rise to a better world

view gallery VIEW GALLERY

Unknown cricketer who came to England to improve his game unwittingly became a pivotal figure in fight against apartheid

Without the dramatic events of the late summer of 1968, Basil D'Oliveira's life would have been extraordinary. With them, his place in cricket and beyond is imperishable; he changed the course of history.

D'Oliveira's innocent but integral part in what happened led to the sporting isolation of the land of his birth, South Africa, and eventually the disintegration of the apartheid system which cast the majority non-white population as second-class citizens. No sportsman of any creed or colour can ever have had such a breathtaking effect on matters while retaining his stature and dignity.

This could not quite have been foreseen in that August and September 43 years ago, though there had been enough political chicanery in the preceding year to indicate that huge issues were at stake. D'Oliveira, who died yesterday at the age of 80, was at the centre of a bitter affair which came to bear his name.

After making a magnificent 158 for England in the final Test of the summer against Australia following a late call-up which could be said to be in the nick of time, he was contentiously omitted from the party to tour South Africa that winter.

Three weeks of accusation and recrimination followed (which have never been wholly eradicated). It was a dispute that had been brewing for a year. South Africa, still intent on pursuing its racial policy, had made it clear through cricketing and diplomatic channels that if D'Oliveira was selected they would not allow the tour to proceed.

He had grown up as a so-called Cape Coloured in the Bo-Kaap area on the outskirts of Cape Town. Against all odds, he had made a new home in England, had forged an improbably successful career as a professional cricketer and become an outstanding Test player.

There was fury when he was overlooked for the tour after a six-hour meeting and it refused to subside. Although hindsight suggests that there were, if only just, cricketing grounds for D'Oliveira's omission, they were devoured by the indignation. MCC, who were still running English cricket then, were too easily accused of bowing to the wishes of a heinous regime.

When Tom Cartwright, a seam bowler, withdrew from the party in mid-September, the selectors replaced him with D'Oliveira, a batsman who bowled but was not an all-rounder in the truest sense. Immediately the tour was called off by South Africa's Prime Minister, John Vorster. It was deeply ironic that MCC, viewed in England as the Tory party at play as much as the Church of England was the Tory party at prayer, were seen as more or less left-wing plotters in South Africa.

England did not play South Africa again at cricket until 1993, after apartheid was dismantled. An entire generation might have passed but without the D'Oliveira Affair, who knows how long it would have taken? It was that which caused the world to examine the South African government's policy closely for the first time and not to like what it saw.

It is too easy to overlook the splendour of D'Oliveira as a cricketer. He came to England in 1960 as a professional with Middleton in the Central Lancashire League. That was still the era when small-town northern clubs employed illustrious overseas players; the unknown South African was patently not one. His journey there had been, not unnaturally, difficult.

On the matting and scrubland pitches on which he was allowed to play around Cape Town, he was an outstanding cricketer, a local legend. Anxious to better himself and knowing that would never be possible in his homeland, he wrote to the writer and commentator John Arlott. He could not have chosen a more receptive or appreciative audience.

Arlott, having satisfied himself of D'Oliveira's cricketing worth, took it upon himself to find him employment. Eventually, he was taken on by Middleton and although the first part of the season in 1960 was a fraught time D'Oliveira pulled through. He always pulled through, again and again he proved himself to be a man for a crisis. By the end of the season his League batting average was slightly higher than that of Garry Sobers.

Word spread, and although Lancashire were foolish enough to turn him down, he was recruited by Worcestershire at the behest of Tom Graveney, with whom D'Oliveria had played on an International World Tour in 1962. D'Oliveira was to make a more or less immediate impact at Worcester. He was a batsman of easy, orthodox, side-on technique, although he had never been coached. His footwork was sound and his wrists were made of steel. But it was his temperament which set him apart.

A year after making his county debut he was picked by England, having applied for a British passport a few years earlier. He was staunch against a strong West Indies side in his first summer, made his first century against India the following season and was part of the team.

By then D'Oliveira had trimmed three years off his age and he also learned to like a drink, having been teetotal for most of his life. On the tour of West Indies in 1967-68 it was to cause consternation. His performances were poor. In some quarters, where there was an eye on the South Africa tour the following winter, this was a cause of some relief. It reduced the likelihood of D'Oliveira playing.

The summer of 1968 was odd. The selectors kept faith with him for the First Ashes Test but then he was dropped despite a fighting, unbeaten 87. His form fell away, undoubtedly affected by the controversy already surrounding the composition of that winter's tour party.

Eventually, D'Oliveira was recalled for the final Test only as the third-choice replacement. Somehow he cleared his mind. He made the hundred after England were in early trouble and on the last afternoon he took the wicket which provoked Australia's final collapse and allowed England to draw the series 1-1.

There were to be more days in the sun. He played his part in regaining the Ashes in 1970-71 under Ray Illingworth; he went on to become Worcestershire's coach. But those three weeks in 1968 were what enshrined him.

Basil D'Oliveira: 1931-2011



Tests 44/2482/158/40.06/15/5

ODIs 4/30/17/10.00/0/0

FC 367/19490/227/40.26/101/45

Bowling and fielding


Tests 1859/47/3-46/39.55/29

ODIs 140/3/1-19/46.66/1

FC 15126/551/6-29/46.66/215


Test debut: Jun 1966 v W Indies, Lord's

Last Test: Aug 1972 v Aus, The Oval

ODI debut: Jan 1971 v Aus, Melbourne

Last ODI: Aug 1972 v Aus, Edgbaston

First-class career: 1964-1980

Suggested Topics
sportSo, how closely were you paying attention during 2014?
Arts and Entertainment
Dennis speaks to his French teacher
tvThe Boy in the Dress, TV review
One father who couldn't get One Direction tickets for his daughters phoned in a fake bomb threat and served eight months in a federal prison
people... (and one very unlucky giraffe)
Arts and Entertainment
Joel Edgerton, John Turturro and Christian Bale in Exodus: Gods and Kings
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment
Brendan O'Carroll as Agnes Brown in the 2014 Mrs Brown's Boys Christmas special
tvCould Mrs Brown's Boys have taken lead for second year?
Arts and Entertainment
The Plaza Theatre in Atlanta, Georgia was one of the 300 US cinemas screening
filmTim Walker settles down to watch the controversial gross-out satire
Alexis Sanchez missed a penalty before scoring the opening goal with a header at the back post
footballArsenal vs QPR match report
Members and supporters of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender (LGBT) community walk with a rainbow flag during a rally in July
Arts and Entertainment
Amy Adams and Christoph Waltz in Tim Burton's Big Eyes
film reviewThis is Tim Burton’s most intimate and subtle film for a decade
Arts and Entertainment
Jack O'Connell stars as Louis Zamperini in Angelina Jolie's Unbroken
film review... even if Jack O'Connell is excellent
Arts and Entertainment
Madonna is not in Twitter's good books after describing her album leak as 'artistic rape and terrorism'
music14 more 'Rebel Heart' tracks leaked including Pharrell Williams collaboration
Rooney celebrates with striker-partner Radamel Falcao after the pair combine to put United ahead
footballManchester United vs Newcastle match report
Caption competition
Caption competition
Latest stories from i100
Daily Quiz
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

Career Services

Day In a Page

A Christmas without hope: Fears grow in Gaza that the conflict with Israel will soon reignite

Christmas without hope

Gaza fears grow that conflict with Israel will soon reignite
After 150 years, you can finally visit the grisliest museum in the country

The 'Black Museum'

After 150 years, you can finally visit Britain's grisliest museum
No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

No ho-ho-hos with Nick Frost's badass Santa

Doctor Who Christmas Special TV review
Chilly Christmas: Swimmers take festive dip for charity

Chilly Christmas

Swimmers dive into freezing British waters for charity
Veterans' hostel 'overwhelmed by kindness' for festive dinner

Homeless Veterans appeal

In 2010, Sgt Gary Jamieson stepped on an IED in Afghanistan and lost his legs and an arm. He reveals what, and who, helped him to make a remarkable recovery
Isis in Iraq: Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment by militants

'Jilan killed herself in the bathroom. She cut her wrists and hanged herself'

Yazidi girls killing themselves to escape rape and imprisonment
Ed Balls interview: 'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'

Ed Balls interview

'If I think about the deficit when I'm playing the piano, it all goes wrong'
He's behind you, dude!

US stars in UK panto

From David Hasselhoff to Jerry Hall
Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz: What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?

Grace Dent's Christmas Quiz

What are you – a festive curmudgeon or top of the tree?
Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Nasa planning to build cloud cities in airships above Venus

Planet’s surface is inhospitable to humans but 30 miles above it is almost perfect
Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history - clocks, rifles, frogmen’s uniforms and colonial helmets

Clocks, rifles, swords, frogmen’s uniforms

Surrounded by high-rise flats is a little house filled with Lebanon’s history
Return to Gaza: Four months on, the wounds left by Israel's bombardment have not yet healed

Four months after the bombardment, Gaza’s wounds are yet to heal

Kim Sengupta is reunited with a man whose plight mirrors the suffering of the Palestinian people
Gastric surgery: Is it really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Is gastric surgery really the answer to the UK's obesity epidemic?

Critics argue that it’s crazy to operate on healthy people just to stop them eating
Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction Part 2 - now LIVE

Homeless Veterans appeal: Christmas charity auction

Bid on original art, or trips of a lifetime to Africa or the 'Corrie' set, and help Homeless Veterans
Pantomime rings the changes to welcome autistic theatre-goers

Autism-friendly theatre

Pantomime leads the pack in quest to welcome all