Tuesday, 4 October 2011

Sport and politics

Happy Birthday to Basil D'Oliveira.  44 Tests, 2484 runs at 40.06, 47 wickets at 39.55.

1968 might have been a big year for some - it was the year of protest - the year Paris students rebelled, the year of Black Power protests at the Olympics. It was the year Martin Luther King was shot.  Fantasy Bob's main concerns were trying to play Albatross on his guitar and whether he could ever pluck up the courage to ask Gillian Scott out.  (For posterity's sake he failed at both).

But 1968 also taught him things about sport and politics and brought the cynical nastiness of apartheid home to him.  D'Oliveira was the epicentre.  Now Fantasy Bob and apartheid didn't get on from their very first meeting.  Not that there was all that much that FB, as an apprentice juvenile delinquent in the NE of Scotland could do about the obscenities of the regime other than refrain enthusiastically from eating S African oranges.  But sport and politics were forcibly mixed by the Vorster regime attempting to dictate the composition of touring parties to S Africa by saying explicitly that it would be unacceptable to them for D'Oliveira to be selected for the MCC tour in 1968-69.  FB remembers sharing the affection and support for D'Oliveira since his arrival on the Test scene in 1966, at the late age of 35, his positive batting and medium pace swing bowling.   Bowling of a bygone age. 
FB was vaguely aware of the toing and froing at the highest levels of politics, the role of former PM Sir Alec Douglas Home as go between between the MCC and Vorster.  He remembers the suggestions of attempts to buy Dolly off.  He remembers the squeals from the MCC that sport and politics can't mix and the tour must go ahead, despite the actions of Vorster's government. 

He is sure he would have watched part of D'Oliveira's innings of 158 at the Oval when umpire Charlie Elliot is said to have muttered to him as he brought up his 100 'Now you've put the cat among the pigeons.'  He remembers the smell of things not quite right; of the establishment saying one thing but seeming to do another; of Dolly being left out of the tour party and then brought in when Cartwright was forced out through injury.  He remembers the tour being cancelled.  6 months later the MCC invited the S Africans to tour England in 1970, a tour which in its turn was cancelled as the squeeze against apartheid tightened.

Above all he remembers Dolly.  Dolly is 80 today.  FB understands that he now suffers from Parkinson's Disease and has high care needs.  All the more reason for cricketers to take a moment to remember him, his achievements on the field, his quiet dignity when faced with political forces determined to destroy him or exploit him. The rest is history.
Happy Birthday.

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