Top positive review
15 people found this helpful
on 30 March 2005
This is a fantastic book, telling the story of Basil D'Oliveira's desire to play cricket in the face of apparently insurmountable odds. It is a remarkable story: a triumph of will and talent in the face of adversity.
I am a little too young to remember the D'Oliveira affair clearly but this book does an excellent job of describing how he became an England cricketer and puts 'the affair' into the relevant political and cricket context.
The cricket first... as an ageing (now aged) cricket player and cricket fan I was struck by his amazing achievements on the cricket field. How in his thirties he came to England and was successful playing in the Lancashire leagues (having never played on a grass wicket before), how he made himself first a successful county player and then a successful test player at an age when most players have long since retired. I was also struck by the fact that we missed out on his best cricket years - if he had started his first class career when he should and given his ability to play under pressure, it is easy to believe that his achievements would be legendary. Furthermore, the book successfully explores and explodes the myth of South African cricket being a white only game. It is a tragedy (for cricket and South African sport in general) that D'Oliveira's contemporaries were denied the opportunity to play at the highest level.
The politics... the book does an excellent job describing the oppression in South Africa and the notion that sport and politics in South Africa could be separated is thoroughly debunked. A particularly chilling aspect of apartheid was how it brainwashed all its citizens, irrespective of race, into believing that it was normal. The problems Basil and his wife, Naomi, had in dealing with British culture (looking for 'their' train carriage or 'their' door) and their surprise and joy at the warmth with which they were greeted is very moving.
The affair itself is handled well and comprehensively - the blatant untruths are identified and exposed and the cowardice and complicity of the English sporting authorities is revealed. Oborne avoids direct personal attacks and is actually quite sympathetic to Doug Insole (the chairman of selectors) although he clearly believes that Colin Cowdrey behaved appallingly.
There are also many heroes in the book. John Arlott emerges as a shining beacon of truth, justice and humanity; Tom Graveney and Ray Illingworth were very supportive; D'Oliveira's friends at home raised money they could ill afford to send him to England, Middleton cricket club should be very proud of the role they played.
This is one of the best sports books ever written. A book that should appeal to all cricket fans but equally has much to recommend it to people not particularly interested in cricket.