Andre Odendaal - 'Dolly' a Cricketing Icon

Driven from South Africa in the 1960's by apartheid, Basil D'Oliveira went on to represent England with aplomb. He became an icon for black South Africans - and also the eye of a political storm when Prime Minister John Vorster blocked his bid to tour his homeland with the MCC.

The D'Oliveira Affair became a seismic event in turning International opinion against the minority regime. Now 'Dolly' has earned tangible recognition of an altogether less volatile kind with the naming of all future home Test Series against England in his honour.

There are many varied reasons why he is an icon, not least because he was the captain of the first non-racial South African Team.

D'Oliveira led the SACBOC 'Springboks' of 1956 & 1958 versus Kenya Asians/East Africa. This fact was described in a recent biography by Peter Oborne on Dolly as, "more important by far than his role as an England Test Player".

Basil D'Oliveira has a much stronger claim than Owen Dunnell (1889 official Test vs. England) to go down in history as the first captain of a South African national team. Dunnell's side represented a minority of the population.

D'Oliveira represented all races, even though the law (and ruling attitudes) of the day prevented whites from playing."

He was the greatest player from the disenfranchised and excluded communities in the 1950's & 1960's - at a time when the standards in SACBOC were perhaps the strongest in history, before Group Areas and rigid apartheid destroyed settled communities and traditions.

Starting senior league at age 14, Dolly scored 82 club and representative hundreds between 1947 & 1960; further achievements before he left for England include:

  • 155 not out and two other hundreds in Sir David Harris Trophy of South African Coloured Cricket Board (SACCA).
  • Highest individual innings (153), run scorer (572 at 57.20) and best tournament average of 91.00 in SACBOC Inter-Race tournaments.
  • Average of 55.87 in SACBOC 'Test' matches in 1956 & 1958 and an average of 43.20 on the East Africa Tour.
  • Second Highest score (182 after Rohan Kanhai) and average of 95.33 in SACBOC three day first-class cricket in 1972 -1974.   He was also a very good bowler.

D'Oliveira was a role model and Icon for black South Africa. Frustrated by apartheid, top black sportspeople were encouraged by the political movement in the 1950's and 1960's to go beyond South Africa's borders to show what black South Africans could achieve if given the opportunity.

Names here included Ron Eland and Precious McKenzie, Empire boxing champion Jake Tuli. Golfer Papwa Sewgolum, footballers Albert Johanssen and Kalamazoo Mokone and rugby player Green Vigo. They became icons for oppressed, like Miriam Makeba, Hugh Masekela and the Drum generation of writers in culture. D'Oliveira the cricketer was perhaps the most famous of these - as regular articles on him in Drum Magazine in the 1950's and 1960's attest.

Going to England ( and lying about his age so he would be considered by the selectors), D'Oliveira was picked for England at the age of 34 and played until the age of 40, ending up with 44 matches, 2484 runs at an average of 40.06 and 47 Test wickets.

All in all in 367 First-class matches, he scored 19,490 runs (average 40.26) and took 551 wickets at 27.45

He was still topping the Worcestershire average at the age of 45 and finally retired two years later in 1979 after taking a famous half-century off Joel Garner. This was 32 years after he first played for Western Province (SACCA).

The 1960's was the highpoint of apartheid. Repression was rampant and hope low. D'Oliveira, through his achievements, gave huge hope.

As one local sheikh noted: "He did the impossible...we were elated. It meant our sportsmen are capable of going to the top. It was like putting a pie in the face of those who ruled."

His biographer wrote: "D'Oliveira always knew it was not just he who had been chosen from England: the people of Signal Hill had been selected as well. Whenever he went out to bat for England, the people of Signal Hill went with him."

Throughout 1967 and 1968, the president of the whites-only South African Cricket Association, Arthur Coy, was working actively with Prime Minister BJ Vorster and their sympathisers at the highest levels of the MCC, to make sure D'Oliveira was not selected for the 1968 MCC tour to South Africa.

At first excluded from the England team against Australia, he got a last chance after withdrawal from injury. His answer was an innings of 158 at the Oval which according to Peter Oborne - "It was by no means the most technically difficult innings D'Oliveira ever constructed.... Nevertheless it was still the greatest innings D'Oliveira or for that matter, any other cricketer has ever played."

Cricket's historians will make the case for Bradman's 334 at Leeds in 1930 or Lara's 400 not out in Antigua in 2004. They are of course welcome to argue their cause.

"But those runs were not scored under conditions of unspeakable personal difficulty, against an attack comprising Prime Minister Johannes Vorster and South African apartheid at its most savage and corrupt, supported by the weight of the British Establishment. This was one. No other cricket innings has changed history. This one did. No other innings in Test history, to put the matter simply, has done anything like so much good.

"Basil D'Oliveira was eventually the ninth England Batsman out. He had scored 158. The Oval crowd understood the magnitude of what they had the overwhelming privilege to witness and rose as one to their feet. They applauded the great South African Batsman throughout his journey back from the wicket to the Pavilion, and the applause did not die down till long after D'Oliveira vanished out of sight and had settled himself, exhausted, into the England dressing room."

This innings led to a furore which forever changed the direction of South African sport, and eve South African history. D'Oliveira was excluded, then again included in the touring side to his homeland.

The apartheid rulers said he would not be allowed to come back to South Africa as a member of the MCC team, and the so-called 'D'Oliveira Affair' erupted.

It was one of those defining moments in history. Its impact was massive. It turned international opinion against apartheid and forced changes in sport in South Africa. The strong links between the British and South African cricket establishments of the time were broken.

selected as well. Whenever he went out to bat for England, the people of Signal Hill went with him."

White South Africa was finally excluded from world sport because of its apartheid policies. The British and international public were educated about "the brutality and ugliness of racism". The emergent non-racial sports movement and the forces for change in South Africa were given momentum.

Andre Odendaal

Professor Andre Odendaal was educated at Queen's College in Queenstown, Eastern Cape and the University of Stellenbosch, where he received his BA, BA Honours (cum laude) and MA (cum laude) degrees. He won two scholarships to Cambridge University, England, where he was awarded his PhD in History in 1983. He taught at UNISA before joining the University of the Western Cape in 1985. In 1988 and 1989 Professor Odendaal was a visiting fellow at London and Warwick Universities in Britain and Howard University in Washington, DC. He has traveled extensively and has visited around 40 countries, including 20 African states, and has extensive contacts with cultural and heritage institutions and representatives. Professor Odendaal has recently written a book, "The Story of an African Game", which is the first to cover in detail the history & experience of black African cricketers in South Africa. Andre Odendaal was the only white first-class cricketer to play with black cricketers during the apartheid era in South Africa. He's now the Chairperson of the Transformation Committee of the United Cricket Board of South Africa.

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