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A remarkable account of a remarkable man,
This review is from: Basil D'oliveira: Cricket and Controversy (Paperback)
Peter Oborne's book is a wonderful account of D'Oliveira's amazing struggle. At 250 pages, it is concise, and never overplays the story.
D'Oliveira's story is more remarkable than I, for one, realised before reading this book. Oborne makes a good case for D'Oliveira to be classed as a great player - for a player to return a Test batting average of over 40 after making their debut at the age of 34 is quite remarkable, as is the fact that D'Oliveira is one of the few players to have a Test batting average higher than their bowling average. Oborne also rates his 158 in the last Test of the 1968 series as the greatest innings ever played, considering the pressure D'Oliveira was under and the political impact it had. For me this is debatable, but he puts the case well, and it's an interesting assertion worth thinking about.
There's an awful lot in this comparatively short book. There is a lengthy section on the early years in South African 'racial' cricket, and a good account of the role of John Arlott as a kind of Fairy Godmother, giving D'Oliveira the chance to start a career in England. And like others here I was very touched indeed to read of his wife, Naomi, and the confusion she felt at the absence of signs in Britain to denote the facilities that blacks were allowed to use, and her fear at entering 'white' shops in Middleton, and her tears when she was received with great affection and warmth. The towns of Middleton and Worcester can stand tall given the role they played in this story.
The meat of the book, though, is an account of the summer of 1968, when D'Oliveira at the last moment made it almost impossible for the MCC not to pick him for the 1968/9 tour of South Africa, which they knew would inevitably cause the South African Government to cancel the tour. It is a dismaying story of the unholy alliance between the fascistic South African Government and the kind of oily, mendacious and cowardly 'establishment' figures who hamstrung British cricket for a hundred years or more with their incompetence. Men such as Gubby Allan, Arthur Gilligan, Billy Griffith and Colin Cowdrey. History is now judging them harshly, as it has already done to their bungling predecessors (Plum Warner and his ilk).
D'Oliveira emerges as a remarkable character, modest and undemonstrative, and like most sportsmen, keen to duck out of the political spotlight, for which he was unfairly criticised by some. But he had a steel backbone, which he needed to make a successful first class and Test career in cricketing middle age, taking each huge step up in quality in his stride. He also had the ability that all sportsmen admire the most - the ability to deliver when the heat is on.
A great book, and the underplayed tone of the writing gives Oborne's judgements heft and impact. Dolly took the b*ggers on and, ultimately, beat them.