…changed a country.
In his own quiet way Basil D’Oliveira probably changed South Africa and the fortunes of it’s people more than anyone else.
While others fought and were more vocal the dignity D’Oliveira showed when the MCC committee that picked England sides spinelessly caved into political pressure, from both the UK and South Africa, and omitted him from their touring party to South Africa in 1968/9. That and the man’s undoubted character in scoring his highest test score, 158, to win the final match against of the summer against Australia, made him a British sporting hero.
He might have been South African born but he was one of ours and you can’t do this to him.
This made it easier for sport in this country and others to eventually a couple of years later cut off ties with the increasingly reviled South African regime. And throughout their exclusion, trade embargoes and all it was the sporting isolation that really hit them the hardest and went a long way to the bring in the changes that occurred in the early 1990s.
D’Oliveira didn’t want to be the focal point of a political outrage he just wanted to go back to the land of his birth and be able to play the sport he loved on the grounds that he was barred from playing on when he lived there.
And with that knock at the Oval he should have gone, without relying on the withdrawal of Tom Cartwright through injury, it wouldn’t have been as the South Africa’s prime minister, John Vorster, stated a political anti-aparthei selection, it would have been based on him being a quality player who would have been picked straight away if they were touring any other country. And it’s something that shouldn’t be overlooked when talking about the player and the impact of what happened. He averaged slightly over 40 in test cricket and back then the 40 mark was the sign of a top class Test player. His bowling average was slightly below his batting so that marked him as an all rounder, though on the international field he was more of the classic golden arm partnership breaker than a great bowler – his first class bowling average was a very respectable 27.45 for his 551 wickets.
Basil D’Oliveira was betrayed by the MCC selection committee – Doug Insole, or should that be Arsehole, Peter May, Alec Bedser, Don Kenyon (D’Oliveira’s captain at Worcestershire), Colin Cowdrey (England captain), Gubby Allen (snivelling wretch during the Bodyline series), AER Gilligan – that day in 1968, including by people who had said to his face they’d back his selection but no such thing – Cowdrey.
In the end though his betrayers are looked down upon while the dignity Basil D’Oliveira showed shone through and is highlighted by the glowing tributes from all corners that have flooded in after his death was announced.
Just a shame that in the same week we’re having to put up with clowns like Sepp Blatter.