'Dolly', the all-rounder who fought prejudice with a quiet dignity, dies aged 80

 

One of English cricket's best-loved and most significant players ended his innings yesterday. Basil D'Oliveira, a cricketer who changed the course of history after becoming an unwitting symbol of the struggle against apartheid, died at his home after a long battle with Parkinson's disease. He was 80.

D'Oliveira, affectionately known as "Dolly", will forever be remembered for his role at the centre of one of the most contentious episodes in the history of cricket.

Rejected by his homeland's national team for being "coloured", the all-rounder emigrated to England in 1960 and became a Test regular, playing in more than 40 Tests. He took 47 Test wickets and scored 2,484 runs, with his 40-plus batting average helped by several Test centuries – including 158 against Australia at the Oval in the 1968 Ashes series.

It was that sort of form that caused outrage when he was initially excluded from the England team to tour South Africa in 1968. After a change of heart, his inclusion then prompted the National Party of South Africa to refuse to accept a "Cape coloured". The tour was subsequently cancelled and it was to be more than 20 years before South Africa came in from the cold, after the fall of apartheid marked by Nelson Mandela's release from prison in 1990.

Gerald Majola, chief executive of Cricket South Africa, said: "Basil displayed a human dignity that earned him worldwide respect and admiration. His memory and inspiration will live on among all of us. 'Dolly', as he was known around the world by an audience that went far beyond the game of cricket, was a true legend and a son of whom all South Africans can be extremely proud."

Michael Vaughan, a former England captain, wrote on Twitter: "RIP Basil D'Oliveira... Great man." And England and Wales Cricket Board chairman Giles Clarke paid tribute to D'Oliveira's "bravery and determination".

The veteran anti-apartheid campaigner and Labour MP Peter Hain, who writes above, described him as "a key agent in the transformation of South Africa from the evil of apartheid to today's non-racial society".

D'Oliveira never got to play for the country of his birth, and retired in 1980. He went on to coach Worcestershire County Cricket Club, mentoring future stars such as Ian Botham, Graham Dilley and Graeme Hick, and seeing Worcestershire crowned County Champions in 1988 and 1989.

His son Damian, who also played for Worcestershire and is now the county's academy director, said: "It is a sad time for us as a family but, after a long battle against Parkinson's disease, Dad passed away peacefully. Although it is difficult, we will celebrate a great life rather than mourn a death."

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