Basil D’Oliveira’s Story
Back in the 1960s, most of the British sporting public had not as much as given a passing thought to the injustice of South African apartheid.But when they saw this quiet, unassuming man banned from playing the sport he loved just because of the colour of his skin, they gavetheir hearts to Basil D’Oliveira.
Growing up in Cape TownBasil grew up in Cape Town, just as the apartheid system was being codified into its most vicious and corrupt form. He lived for cricket andwas prodigiously talented. Like all other black and so-called “coloured” players, young Basil was reduced to playing either in the street or on wasteland. One day, he was inspired to write John Arlott asking him if there might be any chance of making a life as a cricketer in England. Arlott found D’Oliveira a job as a professional in the Lancashire league club of Middleton. So in the early spring of 1960, aged 28 years, Basil caught the plane from Cape Town to London, leaving behind him his heavily pregnant wife Naomi, who was to be such a guiding light throughout his career. Adapting to Cricket in EnglandIn South Africa, he had never played on a grass wicket, and at first he found it impossible to adapt but by the end of his first season in England, he ended with a higher batting average even than Gary Sobers. Two years later, Basil D’Oliveira was approached to play first classcricket for Worcestershire, and three years after that he was selected to play for England’. It is hard to overstate what this extraordinaryachievement meant to D’Oliveira’s fellow non-whites back in Cape Town. Just two years later, in thewinter of 1968, the England team was due to tour South Africa. D’Oliveira, who had been blocked from playing for the country of his birth, now faced the prospect of playing against it.The Start of the ConspiracyThe South African Prime Minister Vorster set out methodically to sabotage D’Olivera’s prospects of representing England in his country. First, he targeted D’Oliveira himself. Using an intermediary, Forster offered Basil a bribe worth approximately £40,000, then a massive sum, which would have given D’Oliveira security for life. The cricketer rejected him out of hand. However, Forster also had a second plan of attack.He also set about “nobbling” the MCC. The South African prime minister sent a secret message that if D’Oliveira was picked for England, the South African tour would be cancelled. Some of the most senior members and officials at the MCC were stuck in a time warp. They succumbedto Prime Minister Vorster’s pressure, and D’Oliveira was not picked. A Defining Moment in South African SportBack in England, D’Oliveira had been playing cricket for Worcestershire against Sussex. He collapsed when the touring squad was announced overthe radio, everything which D’Oliveira had hoped for and dreamt of had been shattered. No one had predicted what followed. The blatant unfairness of the MCC’s decision caused national outrage in Britain and led to a rebellion at the MCC, in due course the England selectors relentedand changed their minds. This time, it was South Africa which called the tour off. It was to be 25 years until England and South Africa would meetagain on the cricket field.