Obituary: Basil D'Oliveira

A talented all-rounder, Basil D'Oliveira is remembered more for his role in bringing down South Africa's apartheid regime than for his achievements on the cricket field.

Had the former England player begun his Test cricket career earlier, he might have set the record books rather than history books alight.

However four decades later he is not famous for his five Test centuries but for an affair which exposed the racist policies of his native country South Africa to the world.

It was his omission from an England touring party to South Africa in 1968 that led to the country's 25-year long sporting isolation, ending only with the fall of apartheid.

Basil Lewis D'Oliveira was born in Signal Hill, Cape Town, South Africa on 4 October 1931.

But being a mixed-race South African during apartheid, he was prevented from playing top-class cricket.

In 1960, he left South Africa at the age of 31, with his wife Naomi, to ply his craft for Middleton in the Lancashire Leagues in England.

Given the nickname Dolly, he impressed with his solid attacking batting style and gentle but tight medium pace bowling.

D'OLIVEIRA'S TEST CAREER

  • Test caps: 44
  • Test debut: v West Indies 1966
  • Last Test: v Australia 1972
  • Runs: 2484
  • 100s: 5
  • Ave: 40.06
  • Wickets: 47
  • Best (match): 5-62
  • Econ rate: 1.95

Although he did not play his first full English season until 1965, his cricket blossomed and at 33 years of age finally found himself playing first class cricket with county side Worcestershire.

He proved to be a key member of the team and the following year earned a call-up for the England squad.

On his debut against the West Indies in 1966, D'Oliveira was run out for 27 and produced bowling figures of 1-24 at Lord's.

But his reputation on the team soon grew with half-centuries in the next three matches.

Despite scoring 158 against Australia in the final Test of 1968, he was omitted from the party to tour South Africa, and then added when Tom Cartwright pulled out.

Upon hearing that D'Oliveira was originally from South Africa and he was coloured, the South African government made it clear he would not be welcome.

The tour was cancelled and the incident culminated in a ban on sporting ties with South Africa which would last until the early 1990s.

Basil had to lie about his age because he thought if they realised how old he was they would not pick him for England. So he came down from born in 1935 at that time, solidifying his place in the team as 1933 born and when I wrote his book in 1980 he finally conceded he was born in 1928. So by my calculation he was 38 when he first played for England in 1966 and 83 when he died

BBC Radio 5 live's Pat Murphy

D'Oliveira played four more years for England - most notably as a member of Ray Illingworth's Ashes-winning team in 1970-71.

After retiring from international cricket in 1972, he enjoyed a long, glorious Indian summer and was still topping the Worcestershire batting averages in 1977, aged nearly 46.

He continued to play occasionally for the club until he was 49 and became team coach when he retired, steering the county to two Championship victories in the 1990s.

Former Worcestershire and England batsman Graeme Hick recalled: "He'd always keep his instructions very simple. I'd go talk to Basil and always come away feeling better."

D'Oliveira returned often to coach and play in South Africa's non-white leagues after his Test retirement, and his achievements were acknowledged in 2003 when South Africa hosted the World Cup.

He and the great South Africa batsman Graeme Pollock were the two cricketing giants invited out on to the Newlands ground in Cape Town to take part in the opening ceremony.

In 2004, he was further honoured when it was decided the inaugural Basil D'Oliveira Trophy would be awarded to the winning team in all future Test series played in South Africa between the host side and England.

One of the finest cricketers of his generation had finally got the recognition he deserved.