Goodbye Dolly

This is turning out to be a sad month for cricket fans, for today saw the death of legendary all-rounder Basil D’Oliveira. “Dolly”, as he was affectionately known, was born in South Africa but was unable to play first-class cricket there because of the apartheid regime’s policy of racial segregation; as a “Cape Coloured” he wasn’t allowed to play what was basically a whites-only game. He emigrated to England in 1960 and was subsequently picked to play for England and quickly established himself as an excellent player at Test level. Selected basically as a batting all-rounder, and usually coming in between 5 and 7 in the order,  his  average was over 40, and he scored 5 centuries in 44 Test matches in a career that lasted from 1966 to 1972. These are impressive figures, especially considering that his Test career didn’t even start until he was in his mid-thirties.

His selection (as a late replacement) for the England side that was to tour South Africa in 1968 precipitated the D’Oliveira Affair, which led to South Africa being ostracised from international cricket until the end of apartheid in the 1990s. Although this episode must have been personally distressing for him, D’Oliveira behaved with great courage and dignity throughout and won many admirers on and off the field, and the warmth of the tributes being paid in today’s media demonstrate the high regard in which he was held by cricketers, fans of the sport, and  by campaigners against racism.

Rest in peace, Basil D’Oliveira (1931-2011), one of the true gentlemen of cricket.



9 Responses to “Goodbye Dolly”

  1. The D’Oliveira affair was even worse than you suggest. The South African government had been making thinly veiled threats about the potential constitution of the England touring party throughout the summer of 1968. Basically, there was no way D’Oliveira’s selection would be acceptable. But D’Oliveira scored a magnificent 158 in the final Ashes Test, shortly before the touring party was to be selected. The innings helped England win the match and draw the series, and in my view, for what it precipitated, was probably the most important century ever made. The MCC (who selected the England touring party in those days) diabolically ducked the issue and didn’t select D’Oliveira. Funnily enough, the minutes of that infamous selection meeting have been “lost”, which is curious for an institution that takes such an interest in its own and the game’s history…..
    There was a huge outcry, and D’Oliveira himself was distraught. Ultimately, Somerset’s Tom Cartwright pulled out with an injury (was it a diplomatic one?), D’Oliveira was selected (even though Cartwright was a bowler not a batsman), Vorster was apoplectic and the rest is history.

    I met D’Oliveira at a Worcestershire benefit match at a local club when I was a sixth former. Various celebs like George Best were also there, but D’Oliveira was the one I was in awe of, because he had played a huge part in the eventual downfall of the system that had denied him a livelihood in the country of his birth. (Although at that time apartheid was still in place and Mandela was still banged up in Polsmore prison).

    The D’Oliveira affair taught me a number of things, not least that anyone who maintains that “sport and politics don’t mix” is being disingenuous at best, or in Burleigh parlance “talking complete bollox”. It also taught me that British establishment institutions, like the MCC, dominated by old men of the old school and OxBridge ties, could not be trusted and were/are the antithesis of many of the values and morals I hold.

    Having said that, the MCC (which no longer runs the English or world game, merely maintains the Laws) is now a vastly reformed institution, doing much work globally to promote and support the game, and indeed provides an independent voice to counter the worst self-interest and greed of the ICC.

  2. Anton Garrett Says:

    It was deeply disingenuous of MCC to not select him after that innings. When he passed the ton the umpire said to him “you’ve put the cat among the pigeons now!” Back then umpires and cricketers on opposing sides were a lot closer. It was also a drinking culture which D’Oliveira, who arrived here a teetotaller, eventually took to with some enthusiasm.

    I also recall his pulling a hamstring in a 1-day county cup final, then coming out to bat and disdaining to run singles in favour of hitting fours. He reached 50 that way.

    As for sport and politics, I liked John Arlott filling in under ‘race’ on entry to Suth Africa the word ‘human’. But it’s funny that it remained OK to play sports against the Soviet Union.

    • Don’t forget the boycott of the Moscow Olympics in 1980, a reaction against the invasion of Afghanistan. Since the enemy of one’s enemy is one’s friend, the USA and others armed the Taliban, setting the stage for a rule which was probably worse than what status as a Soviet satellite would have been (not that I am in any way justifying the Soviet invasion!).

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Phillip: Despite the popularity of the saying in some parts, the enemy of one’s enemy is an *ally*, not a friend. The 1980 boycott was a limited action in response to the Soviet invasion of Afghanistan, not a response to the way the Soviets oppressed their subject peoples in eastern Europe and their own people. But in all cases I would wish to leave it to the conscience of the athletes, not politicians.

  3. telescoper Says:

    I should say I only ever saw D’Oliveira bat once, There was a huge air of anticipation when he strode to the wicket as he had a reputation for strokeplay. Unfortunately he was out first ball.

  4. There was a superb piece on the D’Oliveira Affair by Mike Brearley in the Observer at the weekend:

    • Anton Garrett Says:

      Brearley mentions the recent comments of Sepp Blatter. Blatter is not a man I usually agree with, but I find it depressing that he should be castigated for advocating forgiveness. And also depressing that everybody apparently thinks it is OK for one footballer to call another a “f—ing blind c—” rather than a f—ing black c—. None of that is OK.

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