Knotty Gloves Inspire D’Oliveira Junior

Academy boss Dolly still keeping cricket in family

From the Worcester News, first published Sunday 29th Jul 2007.

DAMIAN D'Oliveira has followed in his father's illustrious footsteps as player and coach - but cricket wasn't always top of his agenda.

In fact Damian, son of England great Basil, did not even take up the sport seriously until he was 15.

Instead, he fancied his chances of making the grade in professional football and was good enough to have trials with West Brom and Arsenal.

But once he had become the proud owner of a pair of England great Alan Knott's wicketkeeping gloves, D'Oliveira caught the cricket bug big-time and was on the road to a 13-year first-class career with Worcestershire.

"My father never pushed me towards cricket, and all I wanted to be was a footballer," said D'Oliveira, who is now academy director at New Road.

"Then dad came home from a Test match with a pair of Knotty's gloves as a present. Alan had always been a bit of a hero - and whenever we had a game in the street or a field I'd be the wicketkeeper.

"It wasn't until I joined a club and started playing competitively that I realised I wasn't as good as I thought!"

It wasn't long, however, before D'Oliveira, 47, was given a trial at New Road as a wicketkeeper-batsman.

He failed to make the grade and instead took a different route to the top by joining the Lord's groundstaff in 1979.

"It was probably the best thing that could have happened to me," D'Oliveira added. "Apart from being a great cricket education, it was my first time away from home and I had to grow up and learn to fend for myself.

"Of course, everybody knew who my father was - and like everything in life, there were pros and cons to being Basil D'Oliveira's son. But I don't think I was ever given preferential treatment.

"I've travelled all over the world - and everywhere I've gone, people remember my dad.

"But when I was growing up, I just saw his cricket as his job and never regarded him as a famous person. He was just dad."

After serving his Lord's apprenticeship, D'Oliveira returned to Worcester - where he was given a professional contract and made his first-class debut as a batsman who bowled a bit of off-spin in 1982.

Over the next 13 years, D'Oliveira went on to score 9,504 runs in 234 first-class games for the County as well as contributing 4,822 one-day runs.

He added: "The following year, Worcestershire turned to the youngsters. I was one of them - along with people like Richard Illingworth, Steve Rhodes, Tim Curtis, Martin Weston and Phil Newport. We had to learn fast.

"Fortunately, we did and with players like Graeme Hick, Ian Botham, Graham Dilley, Tom Moody and Neal Radford coming into the side, we became a very strong line-up."

He can say that again. D'Oliveira was a member of a Worcestershire side that won the county championship twice, the NatWest Trophy, the Benson & Hedges Trophy and two Sunday League titles.

"I'm often asked about the best moments," he said. "But for me the real highlight was being part of such a successful side, only the second Worcestershire team to win back-to-back titles. The overall package was more important than individual successes."

Even after moving aside to take over as second-team captain in 1995, there was to be one last hurrah for D'Oliveira - whose father was the county's coach between 1980 and 1991.

"We were due to play Notts at Trent Bridge. Everyone said the wicket would turn, but we were without Illy and Hick on Test duty - and I was watching Tim Curtis and Tom Moody try their hand at spin in the nets.

"After a while Tim, who was captain, broke off and said, Right Dolly, you're coming with us to Trent Bridge to bowl off-spin'.

"I said you're joking!', but Tim replied just do as you're told'.

"So I did. I bowled 65 overs, took 5-210 in the match and hit the winning runs.

"I had another game at Kidderminster later in the season but didn't go out on such a successful note with 0-159!"

Now a third member of the D'Oliveira clan, Damian's youngest son Brett - a 15-year-old leg-spinning all-rounder - is hoping to make his mark in the professional game after joining the Worcestershire academy.

"Like all the youngsters, he has a talent. But at the end of the day, how far he takes that talent is down to him," D'Oliveira added.

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