BASIL D'OLIVEIRA

By Yusuf "Chubb" Garda.

In l967 Wisden described the story of Basil D'Oliveira as "a fairy tale come true", and went on to state: "No Test player has had to overcome such tremendous disadvantages along the road to success as the Cape Coloured D'Oliveira."

CLR James the West Indian philosopher, and writer of the cricket classic "Beyond a Boundary" wrote: "Altogether, apart from the figures and obvious capacity to rise to an occasion , there is this continuous recognition by seasoned criticism, that here was a man who in the face of extraordinary difficulties made himself into a cricketer of a high order."

Basil D'Oliveira's cricketing career started in South Africa. Basil's father, a hard taskmaster, was the most important influence on the young lad's cricket. Basil scored 80 centuries during 15 years of cricket in South Africa. Once he scored 225 in 70 minutes, and hit 28 sixes and 10 fours. Basil also hit 48runs in an 8 ball over. As a bowler he once took 9 wickets for 2 runs. He was a cricketing prodigy and phenomenon.

In Johannesburg, at the Natalspruit Cricket Grounds, in 1953 Basil scored 75 against the S.A. Indians and in 1955 scored 153 against the S.A.Malays. This was our initial glimpse of cricketing genius. Against Kenya, Basil scored 70, 96, and 139. Basil captained the Sacboc test team against Kenya, both in South Africa and in Kenya.

By this time, these statistics had begun appearimg in the World Sports Illustrated. Basil had written letters to John Arlott, humbly requesting for a cricketing job overseas. There was some friendly communication. But the request seemed hopeless. Who would invest in an unknown player? ... Then, miraculously Wesley Hall was not available for Middleton in the Lancashire League. And Basil was employed for the princely sum of £450 But Basil had to arrange his own airfare. In the meantime, Tom Reddick ex Nottinghamshire player gave Basil some lessons on how to adapt to turf wickets.

ON the lst April 1960, Basil D'Oliveira arrived at London Airport, and the rest is history." In my first 5 matches I made a grand total of 25 runs. I was desperately homesick. I wrote to Naomi I was coming back...the four walls in my bedroom were my only companions....I was a very shy person... but I had a stroke of luck....I got some advice from a Mr Eric Price.... 'Wait and relax'.....In the next match I got 78 ..I never looked back after that knock." At the end of the season, Basil D'Oliveira finished top of the averages in the Central Lancashire League, ahead of Gary Sobers.

In 1962 cricket philanthrophist, Ron Roberts had asked Basil to join his XI to Rhodesia and East Africa. Basil was to play in the select company of Ray Lindwall, Everton Weekes, Hanif Mohammed Bobby Simpson, Sonny Ramadhin, Rohan Kanhai, Tom Graveney, and Ferge Gupte. Against Kenya in Nairobi Basil scored a century in 60 minutes, the second 50 came in just 19 minutes. Writes Basil " I did it deliberately to get noticed and felt very proud as I walked off - and I felt even better as I looked up to see all my illustrious team-mates applauding." Years later when they met in Barbados, Everton Weekes paid Basil D'Oliveira the greatest compliment he ever had:

"You know Bas, that knock at Nairobi was one of the finest I have ever seen and as I watched it, I thought you'd become a great player."

In a festival match at Hastings against Australia in l964, playing for Arthur Gilligans Xl, Basil scored 119. The great impact had been made.

After 5 years in the wilderness ( 3 for Middleton, 1 year for Kidderminster, and 1 year for Worcester 2nd Eleven) Basil D'Oliveira joined Worcester in 1965 and in his first two county matches against Essex, scored 106 and 163 and was awarded his County Cap.

Now that Basil saw the possibility of big-time and Test cricket, he had to indulge in a small lie, and give the impression that he was born 4 th October 1934 and not 1930.

Then in l966 came the great event of a lifetime. Basil D'Oliveira was selected to play agains the West Indies. In six years Basil had reached the very pinnacle of his career. The unbelievable had taken place. Most of the people of South Africa were filled with ecstacy. Basil must have felt emotions which were indescribable.

Basil's first test innings was at Lords. He came in at 203 for 5 and settled down to play a confident and courageous innings. The crowd was behind Basil. Basil went out in great style. He was run out for 27 when a stroke from Jim Parks ricocheted from Basils boots.It was a freak dismissal. The ovation was magnificent.

The far-sighted were already beginning to see the possibility of Basil playing for England against South Africa in South Africa. Some whites were disgruntled: once they did not want Basil to play for South Africa; now they did not want Basil to play for England. Eric Litchfield, sports writer wrote that Basil "lacked the authority and enterprise of Richard Dumbrill and Tiger Lance". Louis Duffus wrote that Basil should know about the laws and rules of South Africa: if the law says you drive on the left-hand side then you drive on the left-hand side.

In Andre Odendaal's authoritative and comprehensive book "Cricket In Isolation", he has included an article by Marshall Lee who states: "Even D'Oliveira was scathingly reduced to a second rater. You'd be surprised how many top cricketers said Dolly wouln't make the Transvaal B side, who believed his choice for England was political. "

Basils Test career was launched. At Trent Bridge Basil scored 76 and 54, and at Leeds Basil played the great innings of his career. Coming in at 49 for 4, with Hall and Griffith in menacing form, and England in tatters, Basil hit 4 sixes and eight fours and scored 88. Basil D'Oliveira destroyed the myth that West Indian bowlers were unplayable.

At the end of l966 Basil came to South Africa and the reception accorded to him was marvellous.

In 1967 Basil scored his first test century when he scored 109 against India at Leeds.

In l968 at Old Trafford Basil scored 87 not out and was dropped for the next 3 tests. "Strange but true, true but stange, stranger than truth." He was omitted from the final test at Oval but at the very last minute Roger Prideux withdrew and Basil was selected.

In the meantime, behind the scenes, a host of officials and diplomats were taking part in a to and fro communication with the South African Government and the British Government and M.C.C. The Dramatis personae in the the unfolding drama were Britain's Sports Minister Denis Howell, South Africa's Minister of the Interior Mr Piet Le Roux, Prime Minister of South Africa John Vorster, Sir Alec Douglous - Home, Lord Cobham, a former President of the MCC, Wilfred Isaacs, Mr S.C. Griffith, the MCC Secretary, Doug Insole, chairman of the selectors

It was as clear as crystal that the South African Government did not want Basil in the touring team. The British Goverment and M.C.C. now tried to reconcile the irreconcilable. Would Machievellian strategies, skulduggery, and clandestine schemes be used to keep D'Oliveira out of the touring team and thus preserve the traditional ties between two white cricketing nations?

In the meantime, a certain Tienie Oosthuizen { presumably on behalf of a South African Sports Foundation) offered Basil D'Oliveira a 40,000 pounds job if he made himself available for a coaching contract in South Africa. It would also effectively mean that Basil would have to make himself unavailable for the MCC tour to South Africa. It is to the eternal credit of Basil that he did not succumb to the temptation of accepting the offer. His faith in his own ability was to change the course of cricketing history.

If Basil were to fail in the historic Fifth and final Test, there would a be a sigh of relief from both white Goverments and both white cricketing bodies.

But Basil D'Oliveira was no ordinary cricketer. He was a symbol of black cricket and black cricket had great expectations . Would he fail them in the hour of their greatest trial ? With all the forces of adversity weighed against him, he rose to the occasion. His cricketing genius and temperament came to the fore. "Cometh the hour, Cometh the Man."

Early on in the innings Umpire Charlie Elliott told Basil" get your head down", and as the innings developed "Well played - my God you're going to cause some problems". When Basil reached his century, Umpire Elliot's comment was: " Oh Christ, the cat's among the pigeons now". Bowler Johnny Gleeson applauded Basil's century and exclaimed: " Well done, Bas, it'll be interesting to see what happens now."

Basil D'Oliveira scored an historic l58 and received the greatest ovation of his life.

"This inning was for my own people in South Africa. I was still one of them and I was on my way back to them with an enhanced reputation."

The team to tour South Africa was selected.

Basil D'Oliveira was dropped.

A storm of majestic proportions broke out.

M.C.C had not reckoned on the love and affection and admiration English people bore towards Basil.

English people, cricketers and critics expressed their utter disgust, contempt and abhorrence against the English selectors and MCC, who had ,in dropping Basil, bowed down to political expediency and shown subservience to South Africa's apartheid policy.

The most authoritative and respected of all commentators and journalists, John Arlott, led the charge:

"MCC have never made a sadder, more dramatic, or potentially more damaging decision than in omitting d'Oliveira from their team to tour South Africa..............There is no case for leaving d'Oliveira out on cricketing grounds........he has the temperament to rise to the challenge of the occasion.......His behaviour in what might have been difficult situation has always been impeccably dignified and courteuos."

Alan Ross of the Observer wrote;

"It is inconceivable......that he could not find a place among the 16 players chosen for the tour..."

Michael Parkinson in the Sunday Times 1 st September 1968 wrote:

"Last Wednesday a group of Englishmen picked a cricket team and ended up by doing this country a disservice of such magnitude that one could only feel a burning anger at their madness and a cold shame for their folly.....

I also believe that by reaching their conclusions over Basil D'Oliveira they stand today in the eyes of many white men and many more coloured men condemned as racialists of the worst kind and we are all tarnished by their shadow. To hear D.J.Insole insisting with patent honesty that the selectors had done their jobs as cricket experts was to be outraged by the man's naivete. I will not even discuss D'Oliveira's qualifications to tour. I will simply state that in my opinion he was the finest player of his kind in the country."

But the most vociferous and most analytical was CLR James, who spoke the uncompromising, cosmopolitan language of the underdog:

" Its result is to let South Africa off the hook on which they would have been in having to welcome a man of colour on their pitches and their pavilions hitherto reserved exclusively for white people. .....And this recognition that the South African regime is being protected from the consequences of their racialism by selectors in Britain is a matter which deserves adequate recognition by the British organization responsible, the MCC....What then is to be done : To remove from the post which they have abused the original body of selectors responsible for this quite unneccasry blow. Make it clear that because they have so signally failed to live up to the requirents of their responsibilities thery can no longer be considered for holding similar positions in the future. "

The anger grew, wave after wave, the billows of discontent reached the citadel of cricket, MCC. There were resignations and emergency meetings.

The euphemisitic explanation for Basil's omission was referred to by some as: " honest bungling by honest men."

"Something was rotten in the state of Denmark".

Now MCC realised that they stood on most slippery ground. Their credibility was at stake. Quickly they contrived a selection to include Basil in the team to placate the ferocity of local and international temper.

Now Vorster played his trump card at the Nationalist Party Bloemfontein Conference : "This is not the side of the MCC. It is the side of the Anti-Apartheid movement, the Trevor Huddlestons and the Bishop Ambrose Reeves. Basil D'Oliveira is a political football. This team is not welcome.

When I play sport I play sport. When I play politics I play politics."

The death-knell of South African cricket was wrung.

The years of isolation had begun. Sporting boycott gained momentum and the repurcussions were felt beyond the boundaries of cricket. Society was torn between the black mans desire for political, social and economic changes, and the unrelenting tyranny of the governing minority.

The tour to South Africa being cancelled, the next tour was Pakistan It was at Dacca that Basil D'Oliveira scored 114 not out .... " the greatest innings of my life ".

In l970 - 71 Basil found himself under a new captain, Ray Illingworth. The team to tour Australia was to be selected. The selectors did not seem to want Basil. Ray Illingworth said:

"If you dont pick Basil I dont go "

At Melbourne, in the Third Test, Basil D'Oliveira in his 40th year scored 117. England regained the Ashes for the first time since Jardines men of 1932.

Basil D,Oliveira played cricket against all the cricketing nations of the world, barring South Africa. He had played on different grounds and pitches and against all the diverse bowlers of the world and amidst all the different crowds of the world And his cricketing career started only at the age of 35 when other cricketers retire. When I asked Sir Garfield Sobers about the batting of Dolly, he said: " He was a very great and gifted batsman."

Basil did not play in a vacuum; he played in the social and political mileau of his times. CLR James wrote of Dolly:

"The whole of Africa was watching D'Oliveira's success and the majority in South Africa, in particular rejoicing at this demonstrtion of the irrationality which prevents such a man from playing for the country of his birth. I am not African but I revelled in it."

In 1972 Basil D'Oliveira played his last Test at the Oval and scored 43 against Australia. In 1974 Basil scored 227 for Worcester against Yorkshire .

D"Oliveira's career statistics are as follows:

Test Cricket

M Inn n.o. Runs Hs Av 100 50

44 70 8 2484 158 40.06 5 15

First Class

361 564 88 18882 227 39.67 43 98

In l979 Basil D'Oliveira retired from cricket at the age of 49. Worcester honoured him, BBC brought Dolly's parents from South Africa to London, and honoured Dolly in the programme "This is your Life", and the Queen presented him with an O.B.E. He was also Wisdens five cricketers of the year 1967.

Images of the past come back to us: cricketers and administrators and well-wishers: Benny Bansda, John Arlott, Frank Brache, Ismail Adams, John Kay, Ray Robinson, Bree Bulbulia, Jimmy Bulbulia, Rashid Varachia, Bob Pavadai, Chummy Mayet, Checker Jassat, Hassen Howa, Tom Graveney, Ray Illingworth, Geoffrey Boycott, Ron Roberts, Eric Price, Tom Reddick, Gerald Innes .......Tiney Abed, Lobo Abed, Eric Peterson, Mac Antony, Dully Rubidge, Chong Meyer, Taliep Saleh, Tapie Abrahams, George Langa, Frank Roro,Sam Ntekesia, ....what could have been and was not.

The greatest regret in Basil D'Oliveiras life was that he went to England too late in life. In his early twenties, Basil was at his best: eye-sight, fitness, enthusiasm, instincts and the sheer genius of youth.

"Bliss was it in that dawn to be alive.

But to be young was very heaven"

My admiration for Basil D'Oliveira is boundless. I never knew a greater batsmen with tenacity, courage and temperament. Basil D'Oliveira receives the salutes of two cricketing nations; South Africa the country of his birth and England the country that adopted him: for his character, his courage, his temperament, and his cricketing genius.

He represented us and played for us. And he succeeded admirably. We played test cricket thru him. And we succeeded. Basil D'Oliveira is South Africas greatest contribution to English Cricket.

He played there when he could not play here. He scored there so that others would gain opportunities here. In young Adams and Gibbs, we see mirrored the image and portraiture of young D'Oliveira.

I dearly hope that one day there shall be a trophy in cricket, the D'Oliveira Trophy , to perpetuate the memory of Dolly.And in a little corner of Newlands, beyond the Oaks there shall be a stand one day, called the D'Oliveira Stand.

And thru all this stands one huge towering lady, the backbone and support thru all those divine and tragic times, Naomi D'Oliveira.

No Naomi no Dolly.

The story of Basil D'Oliveira is a story that will live in the annals of cricket. It is a story that will be recalled, as long as cricket is played. Future generations will marvel at this story of a young boy with a burning ambition to play cricket, beyond the boundaries of his country, in a land far away. They will marvel at this story, beyond the ordinary, like a fairy tale come true.

DEC 1999

Yusuf Garda

Yusuf 'Chubb' Garda is a writer and speaker about Basil D'Oliveira and other black cricketers. He played against Basil D'Oliveira in 1958.  In 1956 he captained The Transvaal schools team, played against the Kenya Asians, scoring 174 in SACBOC Tournament.

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