How Cowdrey changed sides to placate racists

 

Colin Cowdrey was held up a role model to a generation of schoolboys; one of the cricketing gods, regarded not just as England's natural captain but as the epitome of gentlemanly conduct. An annual lecture is delivered in his honour at Lord's on the theme "the spirit of cricket". However, a new book, Cricket at the Crossroads, makes it clear that he may actually have been deeply complicit in what has become known as the D'Oliveira Affair.

Official channels having proved understandably reticent on the subject, Cowdrey's autobiography has been one of the main source documents. In it, he claimed that as the summer of 1968 progressed nobody in the cricketing establishment, least of all the selectors, had any idea that the South African tour would not be allowed to go ahead if Basil D'Oliveira was selected, that the tour party was selected purely on cricketing grounds, that when Tom Cartwright pulled out through injury this came as a complete surprise, and that substituting D'Oliveira for him was a natural and easy thing to do.

Yet there were some worrying inconsistencies. For example, Cowdrey said he wanted D'Oliveira in the side for that summer's final Test, at The Oval for his medium-pace bowling, yet in the event he hardly bowled him – nine overs out of England's 247 in the match. When D'Oliveira was given the chance, he made the vital breakthrough in Australia's second innings. But something would later occur at the selection meeting which might help to explain matters.

As for Cowdrey's claim that nobody at that time knew the South African government's intentions, recently released material from Barry Knight, who played for England that summer, says it was common knowledge in dressing rooms around the country that the tour would not go ahead if D'Oliveira was picked, and that the selectors would not have the courage to select him.

Most damaging of all, in a television interview D'Oliveira himself claimed that Cowdrey told him in the dressing room at The Oval, after he had scored 158 in England's first innings, "You're on the boat, Bas." If Cowdrey was planning to have him in the touring party, why did he suddenly change his mind?

By way of background it should be pointed out that Cowdrey was widely accused of being indecisive. It was also said he would repeatedly promise people things and then not deliver.

We do not know what happened at the selection meeting, since the book containing its minutes has been lost, but we do know that a message from the South African prime minister was left at The Oval for Surrey to pass on to Doug Insole, the chairman of selectors, to the effect that if D'Oliveira was selected then the tour would not be allowed to go ahead.

We also know that at the meeting, on the evening of the final day of the Test, it was decided to consider D'Oliveira purely as a batsman. As we have seen, Cowdrey had always considered and used him as an all-rounder. Is this the reason Cowdrey then did not bowl him in that match? Is it too unlikely a possibility that the selectors, angry and worried that Cowdrey should have called up D'Oliveira on his own initiative, and having already decided what line they would adopt at the meeting, instructed him not to give D'Oliveira an opportunity to bowl?

In fact, Cowdrey himself gives the game away in his memoirs. In an unguarded moment he refers to Cartwright as "the man who had taken D'Oliveira's place", thus making it clear that at least in his own mind it had been a choice between him and Cartwright, an all-rounder, rather than him and a specialist batsman.

At this point, Cowdrey's memoirs begin to take on the hue of self-serving fantasy. He describes playing in a county match against Cartwright in which the latter bowled well, taking Cowdrey's wicket, then going with him to a Harley Street specialist, who gave him a clean bill of health. It therefore came as a complete surprise when he pulled out the next day, but Cowdrey accepted his decision without question. Infact almost none of this is true.

They did indeed play against each other, though Cartwright suspected Cowdrey of deliberately gifting him his wicket to make his bowling figures look better. It was Donald Carr of MCC, not Cowdrey, who went with him to the doctor, and not for the first time either, since MCC already knew his fitness was in doubt. Far from being given a clean bill of health, the specialist recommended an operation. Incidentally, what MCC did not know was that, having been sickened by apartheid while in South Africa one winter on a coaching contract, Cartwright was already strongly considering pulling out publicly on grounds of conscience.

Even then Cowdrey strove not to include D'Oliveira, phoning Cartwright to try to persuade him to go on tour anyway and then declare himself unfit on arrival in South Africa, at which point he could be replaced by Don Wilson (a left-arm spinner!) who would be out there coaching.

So, on the evidence of his own words, it is difficult to escape the conclusion that every schoolboy's hero may actually have had feet of clay.

'Cricket at the Crossroads,' by Guy Fraser-Sampson is published by Elliott & Thompson, £18.99

Suggested Topics
Arts & Entertainment
The Honesty Policy is a group of anonymous Muslims who believe that the community needs a space to express itself without shame or judgement
music
News
Waitrose will be bringing in more manned tills
newsOverheard in Waitrose: documenting the chatter in 'Britain's poshest supermarket'
Life & Style
life
Arts & Entertainment
Back in the suit: There are only so many variations you can spin on the lives or adventures of Peter Parker
filmReview: Almost every sequence and set-up in The Amazing Spider-Man 2 seems familiar from some earlier superhero film
VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Arts & Entertainment
Jack Gleeson as Joffrey Baratheon in Game of Thrones
tv
Life & Style
Father and son: Michael Williams with son Edmund
lifeAs his son’s bar mitzvah approaches, CofE-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys he’s experienced in learning about his family’s other faith
Arts & Entertainment
Ian Anderson, the leader of British rock band Jethro Tull, (right) and British guitar player Martin Barre (left) perform on stage
musicJethro Tull frontman leads ‘prog rock’ revival
Sport
Gareth Bale dribbled from inside his own half and finished calmly late in the final to hand Real a 2-1 win at the Mestalla in Valencia
sport
Arts & Entertainment
Who laughs lass: Jenny Collier on stage
comedy... writes Jenny Collier, the comedian whose recent show was cancelled because there were 'too many women' on the bill
News
House proud: keeping up with the Joneses now extends to children's playhouses
newsLuxury playhouses now on the market for as much as £800
News
news
Life & Style
Stir it up: the writer gets a lichen masterclass from executive chef Vivek Singh of the Cinnamon restaurants
food + drinkLichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines
Extras
indybest
Arts & Entertainment
Ken Loach (left) and Mike Leigh who will be going head to head for one of cinema's most coveted prizes at this year's Cannes Film Festival
filmKen Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
News
The academic, Annamaria Testa, has set out on her website a list of 300 English words that she says Italians ought to stop using
newsAcademic speaks out against 'Italianglo' - the use of English words in Italian language
Caption competition
Caption competition
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition iPad app?
Daily Quiz
Independent Dating
and  

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

Career Services

Day In a Page

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe: Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC

How I brokered a peace deal with Robert Mugabe

Roy Agyemang reveals the delicate diplomacy needed to get Zimbabwe’s President to sit down with the BBC
Video of British Muslims dancing to Pharrell Williams's hit Happy attacked as 'sinful'

British Muslims's Happy video attacked as 'sinful'

The four-minute clip by Honesty Policy has had more than 300,000 hits on YouTube
Church of England-raised Michael Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith

Michael Williams: Do as I do, not as I pray

Church of England-raised Williams describes the unexpected joys in learning about his family's Jewish faith
A History of the First World War in 100 moments: A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife

A History of the First World War in 100 moments

A visit to the Front Line by the Prime Minister's wife
Comedian Jenny Collier: 'Sexism I experienced on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

Jenny Collier: 'Sexism on stand-up circuit should be extinct'

The comedian's appearance at a show on the eve of International Women's Day was cancelled because they had "too many women" on the bill
Cannes Film Festival: Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or

Cannes Film Festival

Ken Loach and Mike Leigh to fight it out for the Palme d'Or
The concept album makes surprise top ten return with neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson

The concept album makes surprise top ten return

Neolithic opus from Jethro Tull's Ian Anderson is unexpected success
Lichen is the surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus, thanks to our love of Scandinavian and Indian cuisines

Lichen is surprise new ingredient on fine-dining menus

Emily Jupp discovers how it can give a unique, smoky flavour to our cooking
10 best baking books

10 best baking books

Planning a spot of baking this bank holiday weekend? From old favourites to new releases, here’s ten cookbooks for you
Jury still out on Manchester City boss Manuel Pellegrini

Jury still out on Pellegrini

Draw with Sunderland raises questions over Manchester City manager's ability to motivate and unify his players
Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

Ben Stokes: 'Punching lockers isn't way forward'

The all-rounder has been hailed as future star after Ashes debut but incident in Caribbean added to doubts about discipline. Jon Culley meets a man looking to control his emotions
Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

Mark Johnston: First £1 million jackpot spurs him on

The most prize money ever at an All-Weather race day is up for grabs at Lingfield on Friday, and the record-breaking trainer tells Jon Freeman how times have changed
Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail. If you think it's awful, then just don't watch it'

Ricky Gervais: 'People are waiting for me to fail'

As the second series of his divisive sitcom 'Derek' hits screens, the comedian tells James Rampton why he'll never bow to the critics who habitually circle his work
Mad Men series 7, TV review: The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge

Mad Men returns for a final fling

The suits are still sharp, but Don Draper has lost his edge
Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground as there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit

Google finds a lift into space will never get off the ground

Technology giant’s scientists say there is no material strong enough for a cable from Earth into orbit