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1968

The D'Oliveira Affair

A timeline of events which led to the cancellation of the 1968-69 England tour of South Africa

Martin Williamson

September 13, 2008

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This month marks the 40th anniversary of the events that marked the beginning of South Africa's isolation from the cricketing world, when Basil D'Oliveira dominated the headlines and the politicians took centre stage. We look back at the timeline as it unfolded.


The innings that started it all: Basil D'Oliveira on his way to 158 at The Oval in August 1968 © Getty Images
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1967

January 26 Pieter le Roux, South Africa's minister of the interior, says D'Oliveira will not be admitted if chosen for the tour the following year. His comments come in the aftermath of a visit to South Africa by Billy Griffith, the MCC secretary.

January 30 The MCC assures the UK government, which has been pressed for a statement by more than 200 MPs, that the touring side will be picked on merit and any restrictions on who to pick would be "wholly unacceptable". In the Times, John Woodcock notes that "MCC heads are emerging that have long been buried in the sand".

February 1 The Cape Times gloomily predicts sporting isolation "if our government insists visiting teams contain no men of colour" and warns "the MCC dare not omit D'Oliveira from their team even if he goes a bit off form in the coming English summer".

February 10 le Roux denies specifically referring to D'Oliveira in his comments but reiterates the country's apartheid laws. Alec Douglas-Home, the former British prime minister, meets with John Vorster, South Africa's prime minister, but adopts a weak stance. He returns to tell the MCC committee that were D'Oliveira to be chosen, the odds were 5/4 on him being allowed in.

March 10 D'Oliveira returns from coaching in South Africa but politely declines to comment on the debate over his position. He admits he has not watched any of the ongoing South Africa-Australia series as he would have had to sit in special enclosures for coloured people.

April 11 Vorster implies that racially mixed teams will be allowed to tour the country. He warns, however, that anyone who thinks this means all barriers had been removed was "making a very big mistake". His comments are generally regarded as a sign that D'Oliveira would be allowed to tour with the MCC.

1968

January 5 The MCC sends a cable to the South African Cricket Board (SACA) insisting that the tour could not go ahead without an assurance that South Africa would make "no preconditions about selection".

February Douglas-Home again meets with Vorster and again takes a weak line, advising neither side take action. It later emerges that Douglas-Home's policy towards South Africa was that it was best to maintain cordial relations, hence his reluctance to force the D'Oliveira issue at this stage.

March 1 After eight weeks, SACA replies that it would "never presume to interfere with the manner in which you chose your sides". But on advice from Douglas-Home, the MCC does not respond to the letter and treats it as if it had never been sent. It, therefore, avoids having to press the matter further. Gubby Allen, the MCC treasurer, later denies ever having received any correspondence.


Sir Alec Douglas Home on the steps of 10 Downing Street: his role in the affair was more about protecting diplomatic relations with South Africa © Getty Images
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March 4 Lord Cobham, a former MCC president, has dinner with Arthur Coy, the SACA secretary, during which Cobham says the MCC "would do almost anything to ensure the tour is on" and agrees that it would be "disastrous" for D'Oliveira to tour, and even suggests that the player should be approached "with ideas that would suit us".

March 6 Vorster and Coy discuss offering D'Oliveira a bribe to make himself unavailable to tour. The offer was to be made when he was in South Africa after the England tour of the Caribbean, but in the event he returned directly to Worcestershire.

Vorster, through secret channels, warns the MCC that if D'Oliveira is selected then the tour will not proceed. By this time, all senior MCC officials - Griffith, Allen, and Arthur Gilligan, the president - are aware of the position, but nothing has been formally documented and so the full committee has not been consulted.

May 12 D'Oliveira is named in the MCC side to play the Australians at Lord's despite a poor tour of the Caribbean the previous winter when he had been dropped.

May 26 MCC cancels the Rhodesian leg of their winter tour on government advice. The British Lions rugby tour, however, goes ahead.

May 31 D'Oliveira is named in a 14-man squad for the first Test against Australia.

June 11 England lose by 159 runs but D'Oliveira makes an unbeaten 87, batting with an "ease which discredited some of England's earlier efforts".

June 16 D'Oliveira is named in the 13-man squad for the second Test but the Times warns he might be left out to allow for an extra bowler.

June 19 Colin Milburn is preferred to D'Oliveira in the final XI. On the same day, Griffith takes D'Oliveira aside and suggests he withdraw from the forthcoming tour but declare himself available for South Africa in a bid to save the series. D'Oliveira angrily refuses.

June 20 EW Swanton, the influential Daily Telegraph correspondent, makes an identical offer which is again refused. D'Oliveira returns to county cricket but endures a wretched run of form. From early June to mid-August he makes 205 runs at 12.81.

July 7 D'Oliveira is not named in the 12 for the third Test even though Milburn is injured. John Arlott, writing in the Guardian warns that this raises issues and that it "is the duty of English cricket to be above suspicion ... it would be naïve of the MCC or anyone else to think his omission without good reason would pass without public protest".

July MCC approaches 30 players to check their availability for the South Africa tour. D'Oliveira is not one of them.

August 10 D'Oliveira is called by Tienie Oosthuizen, the head of a tobacco firm, and offered a lucrative ten-year coaching deal, worth £4000pa, in South Africa. Oosthuizen demands an answer there and then. D'Oliveira stalls and is given until August 14 to decide.

August 18 Colin Bland, a South African Test cricketer, is refused entry to the UK because he holds a Rhodesian passport. The UK has sanctions against Rhodesia as a result of their Unilateral Declaration of Independence. D'Oliveira is not named in the side for the Oval Test.

August 20 Oosthuizen calls D'Oliveira, who has been stalling, and presses him to give an answer. D'Oliveira hesitates again, insisting he is waiting for the naming of the tour party eight days later. They agree to talk the following day.

August 21 Roger Prideaux pulls out of the Oval Test with an injury and D'Oliveira gets a late call-up. Eyebrows are raised as an opener is replaced with an allrounder, with speculation rife it is a political decision resulting from months of pressure on the selectors. It emerges D'Oliveira is the third-choice replacement behind Tom Cartwright and Barry Knight, but both are injured. Oosthuizen cancels his telephone call with D'Oliveira and the pair never speak again. At the pre-Test dinner, Doug Insole, the chairman of selectors, asks the squad to tell him if they are available for South Africa. D'Oliveira is the one player Insole does not ask.


South Africa's prime minister John Vorster: a Nazi sympathiser, he tried to bribe D'Oliveira not to tour © Getty Images
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August 22 D'Oliveira is 24 not out at the close of the first day of the Oval Test.

August 23 D'Oliveira makes 158 in five-and-a-half hours, being dropped four times. As he reaches his hundred, Charlie Elliott, the umpire, says to him: "Oh Christ, you've put the cat amongst the pigeons now." In Johannesburg, Vorster follows D'Oliveira's progress alongside Oosthuizen. Oosthuizen calls the Surrey secretary and asks him to pass on a message: "If today's centurion is picked, the tour will be off."

August 26 The Johannesburg Star warns the inclusion of D'Oliveira would be a test case for Vorster's new policy.

August 27 A sensational end to the Test as England win with minutes to spare to level the series. At a six-hour selection meeting at Lord's, which ends at 2am, the squad is picked. The minutes of the meeting are suspiciously missing. Aside from the selectors - Insole, Alec Bedser, Peter May, Don Kenyon and Colin Cowdrey - it is believed there were at least five senior MCC men there as "advisors". Cowdrey, who privately tells D'Oliveira he will back him, does not, reasoning that his bowling would not be effective on South African pitches. Only Kenyon backs his former team-mate.

August 28 The tour party for South Africa is named and D'Oliveira is not among the 16-man squad. Insole says: "I think we have got rather better than him in the side". The Guardian editorial says "anyone who would swallow that would believe the moon was a current bun". But not all the media agree, the bulk of the heavyweights supporting the selectors. A dignified D'Oliveira, who makes 128 for Worcestershire, declines to say anything other than admitting it "is a bitter disappointment". The MCC denies suggestions his omission was because of political pressure from those not wanting to jeopardise relations with South Africa. Louis Duffus, a leading South Africa reporter, says the news was received with "a national sigh of relief". A relieved Vorster calls Coy to thank him for all his work.

August 29 Sir Learie Constantine describes the selection as "deeply suspicious" while the Rev David Sheppard says the MCC have made "a dreadful mistake". In South Africa, members of the ruling National Party applaud when a rally is interrupted with the news that D'Oliveira has not been selected.

September 6 MCC members gain enough support to call a meeting to discuss the D'Oliveira affair and the MCC's policy of sending teams to South Africa and playing against segregated teams.

September 6 The News of the World announces that it will be sending D'Oliveira to cover the South Africa series for them. Die Beeld, seen as the official mouthpiece of the apartheid regime, slams the move as a deliberate attempt to embarrass South Africa.

September 9 Cowdrey defends the selection decision and the whole tour of South Africa, while insisting he "disliked the whole principle of apartheid". The SACA says press facilities for D'Oliveira should he travel with the News of the World would be down to local boards and subject to Group Area Act permits. This act was one of the bedrocks of segregation. As a player, D'Oliveira may have been granted a blanket exemption (as was the case for all Japanese, who were, technically, coloured).


Colin Cowdrey assured D'Oliveira of his support, but when push came to shove he wasn't so keen © Getty Images
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September 11 Vorster tells the National Party congress that "guests who have ulterior motives, or are sponsored by those with ulterior motives, usually find they are not invited".

September 12 MCC receives a letter threatening to blow up the plane carrying the squad to South Africa. D'Oliveira insists his News of the World contract would not breach "any of the rules which I know so well in a country in which I grew up".

September 16 D'Oliveira is called up after Tom Cartwright withdraws from the squad - Cartwright had missed almost all of the second half of the summer with a shoulder injury. Conspiracy theorists point out that a bowler has been replaced by a batting allrounder, but the MCC defends the decision, claiming there are no equivalent bowlers available. Speculation is rife that Vorster will ban D'Oliveira from entering the country.

September 17 An angry Vorster does just that. "We are not prepared to receive a team thrust upon us by people whose interests are not in the game but to gain certain political objectives which they do not even attempt to hide. The MCC team is not the team of the MCC but of the anti-apartheid movement." The MCC reacts with a statement saying that if the team as picked is not acceptable then the tour will not happen. The MCC sends an airmail letter formally advising the SA board of the squad. Denis Howell, the sports minister, calls Vorster's speech "ludicrous".

September 18 The South African media, save for a hard core among the vociferously pro-government Afrikaans press, criticise Vorster's decision, warning it could trigger a more general shunning of South African sport. In Johannesburg a local businessman floats the idea of funding an alternative tour by an international Cavaliers side.

September 19 A stinging editorial in the Times says Vorster's speech was "an indication of the mental weakness of apartheid, which is a fetish rather than a policy", adding that all he had done was "given a sop to right-wing malcontents". Pakistan's and India's boards both offer to host the tour.

September 20 A senior minister in South Africa says the MCC "are wasting their time" trying to persuade the authorities to accept D'Oliveira, accusing them of "political blackmail". New Zealand authorities, in the light of the D'Oliveira decision, demand clarification on admission of Maori players for a forthcoming rugby tour.

September 22 MCC members again demand clarification of the club's policy towards South Africa. Sheppard says "it would be too easy to think with D'Oliveira out of the game all will be well and we can resume relations".

September 23 Vorster reiterates his stance, telling the National Party faithful he "had taken a decision for South Africa".

September 24 The MCC calls off the tour after a meeting at Lord's with representatives of the South African board. The MCC was told D'Oliveira was "not acceptable for reasons beyond the control of the SACA" and a spokesman said he was "terribly sorry and disappointed". Sheppard welcomes the decision but accuses the MCC of a "lack of foresight and weakness".

September 27 Vorster says Maori players will be welcomed if picked by New Zealand.

December 5 Sheppard loses a vote proposing a censure of the club at a special meeting of the MCC by 3971 to 1256. He also loses other proposals to bar tours of South Africa (4664 to 1214) and to examine proposals by SACA towards non-racial cricket (4508 to 1352).

1969

January 23, 1969 MCC votes to invite South Africa to tour in 1970.

Martin Williamson is executive editor of Cricinfo

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Martin Williamson Executive editor Martin Williamson joined the Wisden website in its planning stages in 2001 after failing to make his millions in the internet boom when managing editor of Sportal. Before that he was in charge of Sky Sports Online and helped launch and run Sky News Online. With a preference for all things old (except his wife and children), he has recently confounded colleagues by displaying an uncharacteristic fondness for Twenty20 cricket. His enthusiasm for the game is sadly not matched by his ability, but he remains convinced that he might be a late developer and perseveres in the hope of an England call-up with his middle-order batting and non-spinning offbreaks. He is now managing editor of ESPN EMEA Digital Group as well as his Cricinfo responsibilities.

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