Basil D'Oliveira - An Innocent Pawn.
Basil D'Oliveira may be remembered more as an innocent pawn in the game of international politics rather than a top quality international all rounder. I first met Basil at New Road in 1966 a man who, together with Tom Graveney, I looked up to with great awe. I had hoped to have a trial in 1967 or 1968 however events over took matters and I followed a friend to Rhodesia (Zimbabwe) in December 1967.
I moved to Natal in 1969 and of course in South Africa at the time one only heard what the political machine wanted you to hear, that of course was not to hold Bas in high regard. The collapse of the tour to England in 1968 (and quite rightly so) served unfortunately to harden the resolve of Mr Vorster and deny some of the worlds great cricketers from playing on the international stage: both Graeme and Peter Pollock, Barry Richards, Mike Proctor, Eddie Barlow and later Vince Van Der Bijl, Henry Fotheringham, Garth Le Roux, Peter Kirsten, Clive Rice, Ray Jennings, Jimmy Cooke to name just a very few. It was to them, a hard price to pay.
In Cape Town on April 3 rd 1971, Transvaal (the Currie Cup champions) played the Rest of South of Africa. There had been a request to include some of the leading non-white players, however the South African team to tour Australia was to be announced at that game so a cunning plan was set. In fact it was decided that the rest of South Africa would field first with Barry Richards, guesting for Transvaal, opened the batting and Mike Proctor opened the bowling for the rest of South Africa. One ball was bowled and everybody walked off in protest!
A statement was released by the players that read: "We cricketers feel that the time has come for an expression of our views. We fully support the South African cricket Association's (the non white board) application to include Non-Whites on the tour to Australia if good enough and, furthermore, subscribe to merit being the only criterion on the cricket field.
The Prime Minister, John Vorster, was at Beachwood Golf Club in Durban ( I was a member at the time and was told by a reliable source ) playing in a charity match and was interrupted by an aide telling him of the Newlands walk off, just as he was about to play a shot. His comment was "Don't worry me with that now, let me finish my game of golf and then I'll worry about the 'blerrie' cricketers." Vorster was due to present medals on the Monday after the game but failed to fulfil his attendance. All the players were due to go to a braai (BBQ) at the residence of the Minister of Sport, Frank Waring, however this was hastily cancelled.
What was the interesting point; the SACA only wanted inclusion on merit and not on tokenism. In truth with the Springbok side being of such high quality it was unlikely that any non whites would have been good enough, certainly with the lack of opportunity and facilities. It is a pity today that the South African board and provincial unions today do not pick on merit, so that old ways are still there, but reversed.
With Bas not being too well and being unable to come to the ground at New Road, I miss the times we used to spend alone in my box just talking cricket or even about South Africa and of course having the odd beer or two. One particular afternoon I spent three hours with Tom Graveney, another great gentleman of cricket, and Bas just talking about all aspects of cricket, we discussed bowlers, batsman, keepers, captaincy and many other aspects of the game - three hours seemed like three minutes! How I long for those days to return. It would help if we had a ground to play on, rather than a lake or a ploughed field!
So what is behind a successful man like Bas? Well of course a more successful wife and family. Naomi has never let Basil's trials and tribulations over time get her down, she is always positive and full of the joys of spring. I am reminded, when sitting in youth courts and seeing the trouble that kids get into, of the total lack of support from parents who are rarely married and rarely together. The D'Oliviera family should be an example to every family.
Good luck to you all and I wish you well Bas.