Skip to main content

Basil D'Oliveira: Cricket and Controversy by Peter Oborne

Cover image © Time Warner Books
It is sometimes difficult for someone who was only seven years old at the time of Nelson Mandela’s release from Robben Island to understand the magnitude of Apartheid in South Africa. I remember watching an old looking black man on the TV in 1990, walking along a dusty street, waving at loads of people and that was it. When you’re seven, you don’t always understand that history can actually happen – you think it is something from the past.

Basil D’Oliveira, or Dolly as he became known, was born in Cape Town in 1931. Being of mixed Indian and Portuguese heritage he was officially classified by the Apartheid regime as ‘coloured’ – what in the UK we would now term mixed race. This immediately barred him from many things in South Africa, the most notable of which was the right to ever be able to play his beloved cricket for the country of his birth, despite his talent.

This excellently well-researched and heavily referenced book by Peter Oborne tells the story of D’Oliveira from his days as a youth in Ba-Kaap area of Cape Town, talking about how he practiced on the cobbled streets of the old Malay Quarter of Cape Town and would play cricket under the shadow of Table Mountain on awful pitches.

Oborne tells of his early years in England where he was at first confused by the lack of separate doors for ‘coloureds’ when he went to the pub. The story continues, explaining how he was eventually selected to play for the English national side after a good spell at Middleton CC and Worcestershire.

It is not surprising then that a large portion of this book is given over to examining a series of shameful events that are now known as ‘The D’Oliveira Affair’ that saw D’Oliveira left out of the England team due to tour South Africa. Oborne looks closely at the sinister dealings of the Apartheid government, the weakness of the UK Government and the pandering to Apartheid of the MCC – the governing body of cricket in the UK at the time conspired against D’Oliveira.

Eventually, following a media storm, he was reinstated to the team only for the South African Prime Minister, Balthazar Johannes Vorster, to take exception to this ‘insult’ and cancel the tour.

It is a testament to the author that he manages to weave such a disparate amount of detail together into a clear narrative. He is also very quick not to just lay the blame at the doorstep of the regime in South Africa, but to expose how equally complicit some members of the MCC were and how weak the UK Government’s line on Apartheid was.

This could easily be seen as just a book about cricket, but in reality it is so much more. It tells the heart-warming story of quiet man who saw himself as ‘just a cricketer, and not a politician’ surviving the political quagmires of both Apartheid and the English establishment.

Comments

Popular posts from this blog

Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes by Phoebe Smith

Cover image © Shutterstock. It’s been nearly two years that I’ve been talking about my desire to go wild camping. So far I’ve bored my parents intermittently and failed to convince any friends to join me. I chanced on an article on the Guardian’s website by Phoebe Smith and realised that wild camping was an actual thing that people actually did. In my own inimitable style, I set about obsessively researching experts, equipment, locations and guides – a process that is still continuing at the time of writing. With this in mind, I looked up Smith’s book Wild Nights: Camping Britain's Extremes . In the book, one of a few that she has penned on the subject of wild camping, she documents her own personal challenge to sleep in a number of extreme places: furthest points of the compass on the UK mainland, the highest/lowest places above/below sea level and the remotest in terms of distance from any roads. Her story begins in Glencoul, Scotland with what should be a bea

A Caribbean Mystery by Agatha Christie

Cover image © Harper Collins. I’m definitely a fan of Agatha Christie. There’s something about her work that makes me think of Sunday afternoons and Christmas. That said, I’m much more of a Poirot fan than I am of the Marple stories, but, being in the Caribbean, and needing a ‘small island’ mystery, I turned to A Caribbean Mystery  (1964) . Set on the fictional island of St. Honoré, Miss Marple has been bought a holiday in the Caribbean by her nephew to help her recuperate from some recent ill health. At first she seems distinctly unimpressed with her location where there is nothing to engage her interest; “Lovely and warm, yes — and so good for her rheumatism — and beautiful scenery, though perhaps — a little monotonous?” To pass the time, as one could expect at an exclusive resort like the Golden Palm Hotel, gossip is an easy method. When retired Major Palgrave starts spinning one of his yarns about a murder, he stops abruptly, just as he is about to produce a photo o

I Know Why The Caged Bird Sings by Maya Angelou

Cover image © Virago Press. I have often been unsure about where in the grand scheme of all things literary Maya Angelou fits. Last August, whilst considering my teaching options for AS Level literature, the decision was reached to switch from teaching Carol Ann Duffy’s poetry collection The World’s Wife to Angelou’s collection And Still I Rise . In the absence of the ubiquitous York Notes to provide information on the poetry, it made sense to read I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings  not only to shed some light on the context of the poetry, but to answer a nagging question: who is Maya Angelou? Caged Bird is the 1969 autobiography of Angelou’s early years in the small town of Stamps, Arkansas, in the USA, through to the age of seventeen. As soon as you learn that she is living with her paternal grandmother, Momma, you realise that her family history is bound to be laced with complexities and confusion. A recurrent theme is the pervading sense of abandonment felt by Maya