The D'Oliveira Affair

'I never thought they`d do that to you, Bas'

Basil D'Oliveira, recalled to the England side because of an illness to Roger Prideaux, scored a brilliant 158 against Australia at The Oval in the last Test of the 1968 series. It was enough, surely, to earn him a place on the tour which had dominated his thoughts since the day he made his debut for his adopted country two years earlier. MCC were to visit South Africa, but D`Oliveira, a Cape Coloured, was not welcome. He takes up the tale ...

That evening, after we defeated Australia by 226 runs, I drove home idly musing about the other blokes who would be in the tour party. Little did I realise a heart-searching debate was going on until 2am among the selectors about my part in the proceedings.

The following day I played against Sussex at Worcester. Just after 6pm I`d completed a carefree hundred when I told the Sussex lads: "Bowl me a straight one and I`ll get out. I want to listen to the tour party on the news." I skied one up in the air and got into the dressing room just in time to hear the news summary. I kept waiting to hear my name in the list of players but it wasn't there. I was dumbstruck.

I don't know how long I stood there but the first thing I recall was Tom Graveney swearing bitterly and saying: "I never thought they`d do that to you, Bas." Tom saw the state I was in and he took me into the physio`s room where I broke down and sobbed like a baby.

When I got home I went upstairs and lay on a bed with my eyes closed. Then I looked up and saw Naomi [D'Oliveira`s wife]. Just as she started to say something I started crying. I sobbed my heart out while she whispered: "Never mind Bas it`ll all come right."

I took Naomi out for a meal that night, resigned to the fact that the matter was now out of my hands and unaware that tons of newsprint condemning the England selectors were being assembled in Fleet Street printing presses for the next day`s papers. Members of Parliament started kicking up a fuss, some MCC members resigned in protest and the row raged on for weeks. One poor bloke from the Post Office had to report for work an hour early simply to deal with my personal mail.

Doug Insole [chairman of the England selectors] said I wasn't one of the 16 best players in England at that time, so I wasn't selected on purely cricketing grounds. I left it to the national press to state my case.

Then I did something that enraged the South African government. I accepted an invitation from the News of the World to cover the Tests in South Africa with the assistance of their cricket writer, Peter Smith. Both Worcestershire and the MCC gave their blessing but John Vorster [the South African prime minister] was suspicious. "Guests who have ulterior motives or who are sponsored by people with ulterior motives usually find that they are not invited," he said. He accused the News of the World of making political capital out of me.

For my part, I couldn't see what all the fuss was about. To avoidany embarrassment I wouldn't fly out with the England side, I wouldn't be seeking any facilities denied to other non-whites in South Africa and, at close of play, I would give my comments to Peter Smith, who would write it all up. Nobody made a fuss about a similar arrangement involving Brian Close the previous winter. He'd been sacked as England`s captain yet went on the tour to cover the series for a Fleet Street paper. Nobody talked about it.

But soon my involvement with the News of the World was to prove academic. Tom Cartwright told the selectors he wasn't fit to tour and suddenly I was chosen to replace him. I didn't careabout the fact that the selectors were now choosing me as an allrounder when a fortnight earlier they`d justified their decision to exclude me by saying that I was being judged purely as a batsman.

That didn't matter any more - the goal was again in sight and the well-wishers were again slapping me on the back. That marvellous feeling lasted about 24 hours. On Tuesday, September 17, Mr Vorster announced he was not prepared to accept the side. He described me as "a political football". So that was it. The dream had died.

Was I sorry for myself? Of course, but curiously not as desperately as during those terrible, heart-rending few hours after the team had originally been announced. I realised that my original non-selection represented the best of both worlds for the Nationalist Government.

There was no chance of me becoming a national hero on the cricket field and the tour would implicitly put the seal of approval on the apartheid policies.

Perhaps Mr Vorster might have reacted differently if I'd been picked in the first place, if he hadn't been so enraged by the News of the World deal, if he hadn't been under great pressure from the right-wing of his party to take a stance which would still the gradual murmur of approval for multi-racial sport in South Africa. Perhaps, perhaps, perhaps.

Adapted by Paul Newman from Time to Declare, By Basil D`Oliveira