A View from Basil D’Oliveira
- January 1967 - Britain's Sports Minister, Denis Howell, told a cheering House of Commons that the 1968/9 tour to South Africa would be cancelled if there were any moves to ban me.
- In the same month, South Africa's Minister of the Interior. Mr Piet Le Roux said, "We will not allow mixed teams to play against our white teams over here. If this player is chosen, he would not be allowed to come here. Our Policy is well known here and overseas."
- April 1967 - South Africa's Prime Minister, Mr John Vorster, said that apartheid principles would be relaxed in so far as they affected teams from overseas countries "with whom we have traditional sporting ties".
- September 1967 - Derek Dowling, a South African Test Selector, told me he was sure I'd be allowed to go on tour if selected.
- March 1968 - Sir Alec Douglas-Home met Mr Vorster in South Africa and came to the conclusion that my chances of being allowed to tour South Africa were favourable.
- A few weeks later, Lord Cobham, a former President of the MCC, was asked to visit Mr Vorster while in South Africa. He later said "Mr Vorster gave me to suppose that if D'Oliveira were selected, the tour would probably have to be cancelled. Lord Cobham passed his opinion on to the appropriate MCC Officials.
- June 1968 - Wilfred Isaacs, a prominent man in South African cricket, came to see me at Lord's and talked warmly about the forthcoming tour. He offered me his flat and hospitality whenever I wanted it on the trip. Yet when he returned to South Africa a few weeks later, he forecast to the press that I would not be selected. He also later denied he'd spoken about the tour to any MCC officials.
- June 1968 - A high ranking official told me on the eve of the Lord's Test that I could get everyone out of trouble by making myself available for South Africa NOT England. I angrily refused.
- August 1968 - Tiene Oosthuizen, an official from a tobacco company, offered me a £40,000 ten year contract, plus a car and a house, to coach South Africa...provided I announced that I was unavailable fro the South African tour before the Fifth Test. I declined his offer.
- August 1968 - I was left out of the tour party. The MCC Secretary, Mr S.C.Griffith, said "Nothing else was discussed at the selectors' meeting other than cricketing considerations". With scores that included 158 and 87 not out in the series, I was top of the England batting averages and second in the bowling averages.
- It was revealed that two of the eight men who picked the tour party knew Lord Cobham's warning that the tour would probably be cancelled if I was picked. But, apparently, for reasons best known to themselves, they didn't tell the other six selectors what they knew. However Doug Insole, the chairman of selectors, said "All I can say is that I was not aware any selectors knew about Lord Cobham's report."
- September 1968 - Tom Cartwright broke down through injury and I was summoned to take his place in the tour party; a batsman replacing a bowler.
- September 1968 - Mr Vorster denounced my selection and said, "It is the team of the anti-apartheid movement". The MCC called off the tour because the reconstituted party was unacceptable to Mr Vorster and his Government.
As I waited in the dressing room at New Road after a Worcester v Sussex game, to hear if my name had been announced for the forthcoming tour to South Africa, I kept waiting and when it wasn't there I was dumbstruck. You could have heard a pin drop in the room.
I don't know how long I stood there but the first thing I recall was Tom Graveney swearing bitterly and saying, "I never thought they'd do this to you Bas." Tom saw the state I was in and took me into the physio's room where I broke down and sobbed like a baby.
Tom let me get away early and as I stepped outside the pavilion, I saw Damian. "Never mind Dad" he shouted, " You're still the greatest." I didn't feel it, I was like a zombie. The stomach had been kicked out of me. I remember thinking, 'you just can't beat the white South Africans', but I wasn't bitter. My mood was simply one of resignation and desperate sadness.
When I got home I went upstairs and lay on a bed with my eyes closed for a few minutes. Then I looked up and saw Naomi. Just as she started to say something, I started crying, sobbing my heart out while she whispered, "Never mind Bas, it'll all come right." Then after half an hour or so she said, "Now what about a cup of tea?" I felt better for those private minutes upstairs and I could even see the funny side of things when I switched on the TV. The programme was Opportunity Knocks and there was a white guy dressed up like a black man singing Al Jolson songs.
I took Naomi out for dinner that night, resigned to the fact that the matter was now out of my hands and unaware that tons of newsprint condemning the England selectors were being assembled in Fleet Street printing presses for the next day's papers. Members of Parliament started kicking up a fuss, some MCC members resigned in protest and the row raged on for weeks. Within the space of four days, I received 2,000 letters, only one of which criticized me. One poor bloke from the Post Office had to report for work an hour early, simply to deal with my personal mail!
The reaction from well-wishers was wonderfully heart warming but I was worried about how my family were being troubled by all the publicity. Naomi was badly affected - she went grey almost overnight, her skin looked bad, she was getting lower & lower in morale. My family couldn't walk down the road without newspaper placards reminding them of the D'Oliveira Affair. Shaun was out with Naomi one day and although he couldn't read the placard, he saw our name. " Mummy, has Daddy done anything wrong?" He asked.
Doug Insole said that I wasn't one of the best 16 players in England at that time, so I wasn't selected on purely cricketing grounds. I left it to the national press to state my case on cricketing grounds and I don't think I need add anything to their words.
I then did something that outraged the South African Government; I accepted an invitation from the News of the World to cover the Tests in South Africa with the assistance of their cricket writer Peter Smith. Both Worcestershire and the MCC gave their blessing but Mr Vorster was suspicious. "Guests who have ulterior motives or who are sponsored by people with ulterior motives usually find that they are not invited," he said. He accused the News of the World of making political capital out of me. For my part, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. To avoid any embarrassment, I wouldn't fly out with the England side, I wouldn't be seeking any facilities denied to other non-whites in South Africa and at close of play, I would give my comments to Peter Smith, who would write it all up.
Nobody made a fuss about a similar arrangement involving Brian Close during the previous winter. He'd been sacked as England's captain, yet went on tour to cover the series for a Fleet Street paper. No-one talked about ulterior motives then.
However, my involvement with the News of the World was to soon prove academic. Tom Cartwright told the selectors, he wasn't fit to tour and suddenly I was chosen to replace him. I didn't care about the fact that the selectors were now choosing me as an all rounder, that didn't matter anymore.
On Tuesday September 17 th 1968 MR Vorster announced he was not prepared to accept the side. I felt very sad and sorry for everyone who was an innocent in this affair- the sportsmen, the spectators, the non-whites in South Africa who'd been so jubilant when they heard I was coming after all.
I was sorry for myself too, but curiously not as desperately as during those terrible heart rending few hours after the team had originally been announced. I was now accustomed to the need to uphold dignity and sportsmanship as often as I could and I'd done my best therefore no-one could surely reproach me. I realized that my original non selection represented the best of both worlds for the Nationalist Government - there was no chance of me becoming a national hero on the cricket field and the tour would implicitly put the seal of approval on their apartheid policies.
Of course I was suspicious about various aspects of the saga but I lacked the inclination to get to the bottom of things. A lot of people outside the cricket world got sucked into the big vacuum cleaner that constituted the D'Oliveira affair and a lot of them didn't know what the hell was going on.
Many people thought that the South African Government had put up the money for Tiene Oosthuizen to buy me off just before the Oval Test. I have no evidence of that, but you may ask why was he so keen to sign me up before the tour party was picked and it was a large amount of money.
The then Lord Cobham and I never discussed his briefing session with Mr Vorster in which he gleaned the information that I was not welcome. But that information was, in my opinion, an extension of what I suspected....political forces were at work.
Sir Alec Douglas-Home offered the advice of an experienced politician and it differed to Lord Cobham's. I can't blame the MCC for agreeing with Sir Alec that it was best just to let the matter ride for a few months, to avoid forcing the hand of the South African Government. During my own personal crisis in September 1968, I visited Sir Alec at his flat and he was very disappointed at Mr Vorster's attitude. He was particularly worried that the Springbok tour scheduled for the UK in 1970 was in danger of being called off because he wanted the South African Government to see how their British counterparts could handle law abiding demonstrations without resorting to violence to break them up.
I spent the night at Colin Cowdrey's home just after the tour was called off. He was terribly upset and was still hoping he could fly out on a peace mission to South Africa and save the tour at the last minute. I'd hoped that Colin voted for me at that fateful selectors meeting - but strangely enough I've never bothered about how the other votes went. Colin cheered me up when he told me why he insisted that I should replace Roger Prideaux; Kent and played Surrey at the Oval the previous week on a wicket very near to the test track. It was a flat wicket and the only bowler who got any real assistance from it was the Kent seamer Alan Dixon, who bowled at about the same pace as myself and kept beating the bat.
When Prideaux dropped out, Colin made the other selectors forget their alternatives and the skipper got his way. The rest is history. Tom Cartwright's injury; Roger Prideaux's pleurisy; Barrry knight's fitness and personal problems and Alan Dixon's seam bowling in a county match at the Oval. These were the links of circumstance in a chain of events that drove South Africa out of Test Cricket. And you don't believe in fate?
I'll never forget the events of the summer of 1968 as long as I live. It was a nightmare, punctuated by occasional bouts of euphoria. Actions that had little to do with events on the cricket field meant that South Africa would inevitably be barred from Test Cricket and. Indeed, from most international sport. And the unwitting reason for that ban? ME!
I still have difficulty sorting out fact from fiction, half truth from allegation even after these years. The rumour machine certainly worked overtime during that period, with my name stuck right in the middle. Before examining things in any great detail, just consider these facts and consider the ironies contained within them.