D'Oliveira: one of South Africa's finest © Getty Images

Despite the fact that he was nearing his 37th birthday, Basil D'Oliveira was considered a certainty when England's selectors met on August 28 1968 to pick a team to tour South Africa. A day earlier, England had managed to draw the Ashes series, with D'Oliveira's first-innings 158 instrumental in a 226-run victory at The Oval. But with many in the corridors of power being fossils from the days of Empire, D'Oliveira's name was left off the list, a display of spinelessness that delighted South Africa's pernicious Apartheid regime.

Those with a conscience protested against the blatantly political decision and when Tom Cartwright pulled out through injury, Dolly - as he was known - was called up. But there would be no triumphant return to the Southern Cape for one of South Africa's greatest cricketing sons. Enraged by the MCC going back on its initial decision, John Vorster's government refused to let D'Oliveira play on its soil. The tour was scrapped and though they thumped Australia 4-0 in a home series a year later, South Africa were soon to feel the cold touch of international isolation.

D'Oliveira, who was born in Signal Hill in Cape Town, never graced Newlands, a venue befitting the stature of a player who averaged 40.06 despite making all his 44 appearances in his twilight years. In an attempt to make amends for that, the Sunday Times Centenary Heritage Project unveiled an art memorial outside the stadium gates half an hour before South Africa and India started off their one-day international.

Donovan Ward, a Cape Town-based artist, conceptualised and created the memorial, a steel sheet on which a jagged hole has been punched by a cricket ball linked to a broken chain. "I focused on the role sport can play in breaking down barriers or boundaries and making the seemingly impossible real," said Ward.

D'Oliveira, now 75, suffers from Alzheimer's disease and couldn't attend the function, but an email sent on behalf of his family expressing their gratitude was read out after Ray Mali, president of Cricket South Africa, unveiled the memorial. Several of those who played club cricket with D'Oliveira before he departed for England in 1960 - the journalist and broadcaster John Arlott played a pivotal role in the move - were also present.

Speaking to Cricinfo later in the day, Omar Henry, who became the first coloured cricketer to represent South Africa in 1992-93, said that D'Oliveira had been a pioneer. "He was an inspiration, not just to me, but to hundreds of others," he said. "When he went to play in England, and was followed by the likes of Dik Abed, we realised that we too could do it."

Henry's connection with D'Oliveira goes beyond that. Soon after the England tour was cancelled, D'Oliveira came to Cape Town to do some coaching. One of the teenage schoolboys to impress him was Henry. "He wanted to take me to England with him, but my parents refused. I ended up going only when I was 24. And when I played for Scotland, we had a special relationship with Worcestershire, so I met him again. He always took such a special interest in my game."

When you ask Henry why names like D'Oliveira and Abed are almost an afterthought when talk veers round to South Africa's lost generation, he smiles wryly. "It's deliberate, I think. People are well aware of what they did, and what more they could have achieved, but they'd rather not talk about it."

Hopefully, initiatives like this, to honour one of the true greats of the game, will go a long way towards correcting such historical inequity.

Dileep Premachandran is an associate editor at ESPNcricinfo