“Not Cricket” Interview
In 2006, Paul Yule, a South African born, British documentary maker, directed & produced the film 'NOT CRICKET', investigating the history behind the D'Oliveira Affair, as it was to become known. This is an extract from an Interview Paul Yule gave after the film was released.
Interviewer: Why would people who've never heard of D'Oliveira or have no interest in cricket enjoy your film?
Paul Yule: It was a pivotal point in late 20th-century politics. It led to the sporting boycott of South Africa, which is what led, as much as any other thing, to the fall of apartheid. It's an amazing example of the connection between sport and politics. When you see the British Establishment pulling together to make the unthinkable happen, it's quite something. It's one of those lovely stories where exactly what we thought had gone on has now been proved to be the case with the opening of the archives in South Africa.
Interviewer: That everyone was working to stop D'Oliveira going to South Africa...
Paul Yule: Exactly. Everything was being run from Pretoria to exclude D'Oliveira. There is incontrovertible evidence of collusion between the South African cricket authorities and the South African government; whereas in England the MCC said they were just cricket people and had nothing to do with the government. On the contrary, it's been proved that they worked totally together. It's also more than that. We can see that there was collusion between the MCC and the South African government. As far as they were concerned, to be blunt, it was fine that D'Oliveira was excluded.
Interviewer: What was the immediate significance of the D'Oliveira affair?
Paul Yule: What D'Oliveira did was to help show the outside world what apartheid really was. The National Party introduced racial segregation when they came to power in 1948 but South Africa continued to be part of the Commonwealth after that. Many people didn't really understand what was going on there until the D'Oliveira Affair. Here was a man who didn't look particularly dark-skinned, but the inequity of the South African system meant you were classified either white or non-white and since he was classified as non-white he could play no part in the national sporting life of his country.
Interviewer: What was it like going back to South Africa with D'Oliveira?
Paul Yule: He's a much-loved figure and it was a bit like going around with the Queen. I'm sure the film will still be widely seen in South Africa too and will have quite an impact there. If you think about South Africa's transition from apartheid to government by the ANC, it has been a bloodless revolution really. He played a pivotal role in that.
Interviewer: D'Oliveira is extremely modest about his political achievement in the film. Were you surprised by that?
Paul Yule: One of the ironies of this story is that D'Oliveira obviously had a very significant political effect and the reason he was able to do that was that he always presented himself as an apolitical figure. He was really following Alec Douglas-Home's advice: "Keep out of politics, and if you continue to score runs then you'll be more effective".
Interviewer: But wasn't Douglas-Home just saying that to cover the backs of the politicians and cricketing authorities?
Paul Yule: I think so, but D'Oliveira took it seriously. His public statements were always, "I am not saying anything, I am just trying to play cricket with the best in the world." That became a fantastically powerful message, though, because it was so patently absurd that he wasn't allowed to. His non-selection was a shameful betrayal of him.
Interviewer: D'Oliveira is adamant that Colin Cowdrey, England's captain at the time, told him that he would be picked for the South Africa tour. Do you think Cowdrey sold him down the river or was he just in an unavoidable bind?
Paul Yule: We don't know. According to Professor Bruce Murray, who is in the film, he spoke to Cowdrey about this shortly before he died. Cowdrey told him that you must remember that D'Oliveira was chosen as the first substitute. That was probably the compromise. So they chose Cartwright, someone who wasn't fit, announced the team, and then hoped to slip in D'Oliveira afterwards. I think that the players were muzzled. I don't think they necessarily thought it was a positive thing for D'Oliveira to go on tour because they always regarded the South African tour as the best tour to be on. There was fantastic sunshine, the women are gorgeous and it also didn't have the same kind of pressure as The Ashes. So they didn't want to be thrust into an air of heavy politics.
Interviewer: Finally, how do you assess D'Oliveira's status solely as a player?
Paul Yule: I think he was one of the great all-rounders. In the first test match against New Zealand at Lord's this year, the commentators were trying to work out who were the greatest partnership breakers and they all immediately said Basil D'Oliveira. He didn't start playing test cricket until he was 34 - that's the same age that Gary Sobers retired at. That he continued playing in his late 30s and early 40s is phenomenal. He was always battling, not just race, but age. It is one of the great human stories of sport. It's like a fairy tale.
The D'Oliveira family would like to thank Paul Yule for allowing us unlimited access to his work and for bringing Basil's experiences to the attention of the viewing world.
'NOT CRICKET' is the untold story of the English establishment's betrayal of Basil D'Oliveira and includes exclusive interviews with D'Oliveira himself.
Excerpts of Paul Yule's documentary 'Not Cricket' may be viewed on the Video Pages and any enquiries about purchasing copies of the full version may be made to:
Berwick Universal Pictures, 45 Brookfield, London N6 6AT, United Kingdom.