Basil D’Oliveira is dead.

by Harry on November 19, 2011

At 80. Not 77. In Basil D’Oliveira: Cricket and Conspiracy Peter Oborne suggests that D’Oliveira may have been the greatest batsman of all time. It is worth remembering that by the age at which Dolly made his test debut, many successful batsmen have retired from the international stage: he did not even play first class cricket till after he had turned 30. Whether or not Oborne is right about that, it is certain that if D’Oliveira had been white then a youtube search would show up footage of him, rather than bringing up an ESPN special about a lesser batsman, in which his name is tagged only because John Vorster preferred having SA expelled from test cricket to having Dolly tour SA with the MCC.
Guardian obit here.
My review of Oborne’s book here. I’ll embed footage of him actually playing if someone can find it. (You can see a little here if you really work at it; in clip 6 the narrator says that John Arlott regarded bringing Dolly to England as the greatest achievement of his life. See this clip of Vorster announcing the cancellation of the tour and make your own judgement).

Oborne has the last word:

Cricket writers often mourn the lost generation of white cricketers such as Graeme Pollock, Mike Proctor or Barry Richards. But at least they got to play some Tests and unrestricted first-class cricket. The penalty that Apartheid inflicted on Eric Petersen, Ben Malamba, Cec Abrahams, Basil D’Oliveira and numerous others was far more absolute. They were denied training, facilities, access to turf wickets and any chance to play for their country at all. Only D’Oliveira escaped to enjoy complete sporting fulfilment, and he got his chance only at the very end of his sporting career, by which time his reflexes had slowed and he was half the brilliant sportsman he had been as a young man in 1950’s South Africa…..It is likely that but for the barbarism of Apartheid D’Oliveira would now be remembered as one of the very greatest cricketers the world has ever seen. By rights he should have imposed his great and singular talent on the cricketing world of the 1950’s, matching himself against the great cricketers of that age: Len Hutton and Denis Compton of England, Everton Weekes, Frank Worrrell and Clive Walcott of the West Indies, Keith Miller and Neil Harvey of Australia.



Kevin Donoghue 11.19.11 at 11:54 pm

As one who knows little about cricket (and knew even less in 1968) I simply remember him as the inspiration for one of Private Eye’s most biting covers:


Hamish Mack 11.20.11 at 12:07 am

A great cricketer. It underlines the way that apartheid blighted everyone in SA as they couldn’t see him play and could not have him in their national team.


BenSix 11.20.11 at 1:06 am

English cricket’s best South African.


js. 11.20.11 at 8:48 am

That Private Eye cover is great. This Vic Marks piece from the Guardian is quite good as well:


chris y 11.20.11 at 1:25 pm

Somebody pointed out that he played his first test at the same age at which Gary Sobers retired. Which is hard to get your head around.

And John Arlott was another great man.


ptl 11.20.11 at 2:56 pm


Ian Whitchurch 11.21.11 at 1:41 am

At 2.20, batting to Lillie. Second innings of the first test at Manchester, 1972 Ashes. Caught at slips on the drive at a score of 37.

At the time, D’Oliveira is forty one years old, and Lillie is bowling genuinely quick.


Ian Whitchurch 11.21.11 at 3:41 am


Ian Whitchurch 11.21.11 at 12:24 pm

Basil D’Oliveira was a South African who emigrated to England to play cricket as a professional, something that was denied to him, on account of his skin colour, by the politicisation of sport under the Apartheid regime.

His full career records can be found here

I am going to briefly list his First Class cricket record in 1976, playing for Worcestershire.

Worcestershire v Warwickshire County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 28th, 29th, 30th April 1976 (3-day match). Bob Willis bowling for Warwickshire

1st innings, lbw Brown, 103 and dnb 2nd innings, not out 31 and 0-14 off 7

Worcestershire v Kent County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 12th, 13th, 14th May 1976 (3-day match). Underwood bowling for Kent.

1st innings, c Jarvis b Graham 7 and 1-50 off 11. 2nd innings c Knott b Underwood 26 and 0-8 off 3 overs.

Worcestershire v Somerset County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 5th, 7th, 8th June 1976 (3-day match). Ian Botham playing for Somerset.

1st innings c Botham b Mosely 10 and 1-49 off 29. 2ns innings not out 108 and dnb

Nottinghamshire v Worcestershire Trent Bridge, Nottingham on 12th, 14th, 15th June 1976 (3-day match)

1st inning 0-9 off 7 and 106 not out. 2nd innings 0-9 off 8 and 23 not out.

Somerset v Worcestershire Recreation Ground, Bath on 16th, 17th, 18th June 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings c Solcombe b Burgess 2 and 3-23 off 13. 2nd innings not out 4 and 2-36 off 10.

Worcestershire v Glamorgan County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 19th, 21st, 22nd June 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings 0-11 off 5 and lbw Nash 1. 2nd innings dnb and c Ellis b Cordle 7

Worcestershire v Lancashire County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 3rd, 5th, 6th July 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings 0-4 off 2 and lbw Lee 16. 2nd innings 1-48 off 25 and dnb

Essex v Worcestershire Chalkwell Park, Westcliff-on-Sea on 10th, 12th, 13th July 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings 0-42 off 16 and not out 32. 2nd innings 0-12 off 3 and c sub b Acfield 19

Hampshire v Worcestershire County Ground, Southampton on 7th, 9th August 1976 (3-day match) BA Richards playing for Hampshire

1st innings 0-14 off 2 and c Murtagh b Jesty 51. 2nd innings 1-8 off 3 and dnb

Worcestershire v Derbyshire County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 14th, 16th, 17th August 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings b Swarbrook 113 and dnb. 2nd innings b Russell 27 and 0-13 off 5.

Worcestershire v West Indians County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 18th, 19th, 20th August 1976 (3-day match). Lloyd, Holding, Richards, Gomes. These are *those* West Indians.

1st innings c+b Padmore 60 and 4-71 off 15.5. 2nd innings b Fredericks 19 and dnb

Northamptonshire v Worcestershire County Ground, Northampton on 21st, 23rd, 24th August 1976 (3-day match). Bedi playing for Northants.

1st innings c Larkins b Bedi 18 and dnb. 2nd innings b Mustaq Muhammed 10 and dnb

Glamorgan v Worcestershire Sophia Gardens, Cardiff on 25th, 26th, 27th August 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings 5-48 off 18 and c EW Jones b Allin 0. 2nd innings 2-39 off 23 and c Allin b Richards 17.

Worcestershire v Middlesex County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 28th, 30th, 31st August 1976 (3-day match)

1st innings dnb and dnb. 2nd innings dnb and dnb

Worcestershire v Gloucestershire County Ground, New Road, Worcester on 8th, 9th, 10th September 1976 (3-day match). Zaheer Abbas, MJ Proctor and DR Shepherd (the umpire) play for Glocs.

1st innings c Stovold b Brain 26 and 1-12 off 3. 2nd innings lbw Brown 2 and dnb.

That was Basil D’Oliveira’s 1976 first-class season. Average of 42.00 over 26 innings, 2 centuries and 9 fifties, one of them against Holding and Fredricks. Bowling, 21 wickets at an average of 23.76 with one bag of 5 over the 15 matches.

In batting, he was the 28th best batsman in the county championship that year, counting only those batsmen who completed 10 innings.

Basil D’Oliveira’s usually accepted date of birth is 1931.

The above county season, easily good enough to get him accepted into the current Australian or England side as an all-rounder, was achieved at the age of 45.


Scott 11.21.11 at 4:31 pm

D’Oliveira seems to have been a first-class human being. I don’t know much about him as a man, but when you have the likes of John Arlott and Mike Brealey in your corner, that’s a pretty good indicator of him as a man.

The fact that he did so well as a cricketer so late in life shouldn’t be taken as too unusual. He was a great cricketer and great cricketers, if they stay in the game, can keep producing runs and wickets until they’re about 50. They don’t do that anymore because the culture of the game has become slanted in favour of youth. Until the Second World War, English county pros would play into their fifties. Consider the likes of Rhodes, Hobbs, Sutcliffe, Hendren and Woolley. Even in D’Oliveira’s time, there were the likes of Close, Illingworth and Boycott who played well into their fortys at a very high level.

I’m glad that this post came up, thanks for that. Also thanks to Kevin for the ‘Private Eye’ link.

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