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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.
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on 18 August 2004
My interest in cricket began in the early 1970s, just after the D'Oliveira affair. I always wondered, as a boy, why South Africa were excluded from sport and, obviously, I've learned a lot as I've got older. Like most people, I had a basic understanding of South Africa's apartheid policy. However, reading this book has made me realise the massive odds that Basil D'Oliveira overcame in order to achieve his ambitions and to beat his own country's apartheid system.
That he survived great traumas, in South Africa and England, is a testimony to a great sportsman and a man with great strength of character. Read this book and you will learn a lot - it is one of, if not the, best books about sport that I have read.
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on 8 September 2014
D’Oliveira found himself at the centre of a sporting and political controversy that made him arguably one of the sports stars who has had the biggest impact beyond the world of sport. His status as a ‘coloured’ person led him to leave his native South Africa during the Apartheid era to seek cricket elsewhere, where racial barriers could be overcome. He was so successful in England that he was chosen for the English national side, but the South African refusal to accept D’Oliveira on tour led to a wider sporting boycott against South Africa, making it a pariah state.

In this biography, Oborne draws upon state documents, together with D’Oliveira’s own reflections, to unpick the murky machinations of the British and South African governments and cricket authorities. It is accessibly written and draws sensible judgements. A brilliant sports book with wider themes.
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on 5 August 2012
In his review of this book Mike Atherton stated that "as with all great sports books this is about more than sport" and he is totally correct as this is an important book which will be savoured by those interested in cricket, politics, social justice and humanity alike. I was brought up around the time that D'Oliveira made his way in English cricket and as a boy I had no idea of the barriers he had had to overcome to get there and had little knowledge of what apartheid was and meant.

His achievements were staggering as were the political machinations employed to ensure the cancellation of the MCC tour to South Africa once he was belatedly selected in 1968 after Tom Cartwright's convenient injury. The most telling fact was that Basil was really a contemporary of an earlier generation of cricketers such as Hutton, Compton and Bailey yet he made his name in his early to mid thirties long after they had disappeared from the scene.

This is a humbling story of greatness and prejudice expertly researched and told by an excellent journalist and writer.

Highly recommended.
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on 29 January 2012
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.
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on 13 September 2013
I expected more from this auto/biography. D'Oliviera comes across as almost apologetic for his involvement in the MCC/Pretoria regime power struggle. Understandably this is a story about a young man's passion for cricket, but this was also one of the highly contested sport/political clashes in recent memory. The repercussions of which saw South African Cricket being banned from the international arena. An unwilling hero?
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VINE VOICEon 29 October 2013
This is a wonderful account of Basil D'Oliveira's life, focussing primarily on his cricket career, and especially on the events of 1968, when he, born in South Africa and classed as 'Cape coloured' under the Apartheid system, was selected for England's tour of South Africa, causing the tour to be cancelled by the South African government. Oborne's account is well researched, with references to interviews with many cricketers, administrators and political figures who were involved in one way or another. His treatment of D'Oliveira is positive and gracious, but he does not gloss over his indiscretions, notably on an earlier tour to the West Indies, where he disciplined. Oborne also deals with the views of those who criticised D'Oliveira's willingness to take part in the tour to South Africa, and offers a defence based on D'Oliveira's uncomplicated character, which is made all the more convincing by the accounts of his earlier life told in the book. This is a fascinating account of cricket, politics, and fundamental human dignity.
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on 10 February 2014
As a cricket novel this has excellent detail. It also outlines the surrounding drama of the South African apartheid system in the sixties and seventies. This sporting story unravelled elements of this while at the same time giving the very personal account of a man and his family, and him just getting on with being brilliant at his sport. Well written.
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on 19 August 2012
An excellent book describing the Basil D'Oliviera story, with particular reference to the controversy surrounding the abortive MCC South African tour in 1968, which led to their exclusion from international sport for a generation. However, this book is mainly about the man himself, who was not only a very good cricketer, but also a gentleman, who was happy to chat to we young admirers, and sign autographs. Great memories of a lovely man.
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on 7 October 2011
I really enjoyed this book. I got into cricket via my South African fiancé and he bought me this book as a gift. I think it gives a wonderful impression of D'Oliveira's ability and a sad depiction of how he struggled with a system where everything was stacked against him. This is why his ups and downs recorded in this book are really moving. Plus I learned a lot more about cricket. If you're interested in Cricket and Politics, this is a good book for you.
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