Basil D’Oliveira should be remembered as one of the best cricketers born in South Africa, but his legacy will be his role in defying apartheid in sport. Despite his exceptional skill he was denied the opportunity to play for South Africa because of his mixed heritage.
Owing to his ethnic background D’Oliveira couldn’t play for South Africa and subsequently played his prime years on shoddy, ill-equipped pitches. Dolly only made his first-class debut at 30 when he signed for Worcestershire, he had lied about his age for fear of being considered beyond his best.
‘Dolly’ became a test player in England and was selected for England’s squad to face West Indies, India and Pakistan. But his omission from the squad to tour South Africa in 1968 provoked widespread outrage from MPs and caused resignations from the Marylebone Cricket Club.
Many people believed D’Oliveira was in with a plausible shout of inclusion, but the selectors thought otherwise. It was seen as a cowardly move from the MCC to appease the minority, apartheid government in South Africa. However the MCC was presented with an opportunity to back track on their decision when Warwickshire’s Tom Cartright was forced to withdraw from the squad because of injury.
Throughout the affair, South African Prime Minster John Vorster maintained D’Oliveira was not welcome in the country and after ongoing negotiations the tour was cancelled.
The incident lead to South Africa been frozen into sporting isolation and were only reinstated in the early nineties at the end of apartheid. But for D’Oliveira the debacle only served to demonstrate his class as sportsman and human.
By the end of his career Dolly had played in 41 test matches between 1966 and 1972. During that time he scored 2484 runs at an average of 40.06, notching five centuries and fifteen fifties in he process. D’Oliveria’s impressive record wasn’t confined to batting; he also took 47 wickets at 39.55.
Basil D’Oliveira played a significant part in highlighting the vast inequalites of apartheid to the global sporting community. But in the game of cricket his mark is as a superb all rounder and will be remembered in the highest regard by all who knew him.