Rohan Kallicharan recalls his memories and association with Basil D’Oliveira
There are some people and places that you just remember fondly. For me, New Road was definitely one of these from my most formative years. The lush green pastures of Worcester, with the Cathedral resplendent in the background, were a far cry from the relative concrete bowl of Edgbaston, where I spent most of my childhood days.
Of course, any place is only as good as its people, and Worcestershire County Cricket Club was blessed with servants such as Mike Vockins (Rev) and Duncan Fearnley, who always made visitors feel very welcome. In fact, the usual highlight of my childhood visits to Worcester would normally come in the form of a sparkling new bat from Mr Fearnley; Paul Amiss and I were lucky boys that our fathers were amongst Duncan’s key contracted stars at the time.
Another of those with whom the Fearnley logo was synonymous, and with whom Worcestershire County Cricket Club was also as such, was one Basil D’Oliveira. I have only the vaguest memories of watching ‘Dolly’ as a player, although I have been fortunate enough to watch a great deal of old footage.
By 1980, at which point I was a mere six years old, D’Oliveira had become coach of Worcestershire, and would take a county, which had previously one only four major honours, through its most eminent period. D’Oliveira had himself been a key component in their previous period of success as the club won consecutive County Championships in 1964 and 1965, a side which also included the likes of Tom Graveney and Norman Gifford amongst others.
However, it remained a club fashionable only for being old-fashioned; a bastion of county cricket respecting the game’s oldest traditions, but for some time a team unable to challenge the bigger and wealthier counties in the hunt for silverware.
If it was Fearnley’s bank balance which funded the influx of talent in the mid-1980s, it was also the vision and personality of D’Oliveira who was able to convince big names that their biggest chance of success lay at New Road, and also his homebred talent that they were capable of performing alongside star names on the big stage. The arrival of Ian Botham and Graham Dilley was a real statement of intent, and one that was rewarded with two County Championships and two Sunday League titles from a side patched together with homespun talent and a few international stars.
Graeme Hick has, over these past few days, described him as a father figure, but one who really used to challenge his players. Steve Rhodes, the current coach, alluded to a man who knew exactly how to get under the skin of his players.
Forget the likes of Dilley and Botham for a minute, and look at those that were home grown or had arrived at New Road at a crossroads in their career. Neil Radford, a journeyman at the time to all extents and purposes, who had only moderate success in South Africa and less during his stint at Lancashire, was suddenly a man who would pick up 101 Championship wickets in 1985. Steve Rhodes himself moved south after being unable to displace David Bairstow at his native Yorkshire, and Richard Illingworth made the same journey.
Tim Curtis was a Cambridge Blue without making too many splashes, whilst Phil Newport was in and out of the 2nd XI for much of the early part of his career. Yet, all five of these men, albeit none of them for an extended period of time, played for England, and perhaps none of them would have done so without the constant cajoling and criticism when necessary of D’Oliveira. Hick was another whose prolific form for Worcestershire catapulted him into the England side, although many will see his international career as a great disappointment.
Even when losing so many to international duty, Worcestershire continued to be the most successful side in the County game during the late 1980s, and this was again down to the ability of D’Oliveira to get the very best out of his resources, even those of limited talent.
He had an excellent scouting network which unearthed rare gems from club cricket, particularly the Birmingham League, such as Stuart Lampitt, Steve McEwen and David Leatherdale. These were not guys who were going to play at the highest level, but those who would have very good county cricket careers.
That legacy went beyond his retirement as coach in 1990, as the club picked up several cricketers that had come through the Warwickshire youth system but not been given the opportunity at Edgbaston, lads like Parvez Mirza, Alamgir Sheriyar and even Vikram Solanki who had played much of his youth cricket in Staffordshire.
I always remembered him as a very likeable man, one who more often than not had a smile on his face, and nearly always had time for you. I remember sitting with him at New Road having scored 50 in an Under-19 Game against Worcestershire. He was quick to point out that I could have cost my side the game by getting out when I did, but also had the perception to know that I was happy neither with my cricket or the game in general.
We sat and reminisced for a brief period that afternoon about some of the great players with and against whom he had played – he left me in no doubt as to how highly he rated my own father. We spoke also about his cricket as a youngster in South Africa, and about the great South Africans who had missed out on playing Test cricket. He mentioned the likes of Barry Richards, Graeme Pollock and Mike Proctor, all of whom played a few matches before the ban came into place. Even then, with a greater political awareness, and several winters spent in South Africa, it could have been easy for me to be oblivious to his own influence.
If I could speak to him now, I would add the name Basil D’Oliveira to that list of great names who were unable to represent their country. Of course, he never did, but it was England’s gain that he came to ply his trade in this country.
The 44 Test matches, 2,484 runs and 47 wickets are a mere statistic. The true measure of the man is the smile and the fond words which emanate from all who knew him. He was no saint, but few of us are, but he was a man who encountered adversity with a smile, and was never too proud to share his passion and wisdom for the game.
He will long be remembered in the Cape where a younger generation have heard only their grandfathers’ stories of his exploits. In his ‘home town’ of Worcester, his name will live on in the memories of all who knew him, and for years to come in the imagination of those who don’t as they watch their cricket from the Basil D’Oliveira Stand.
(Rohan Kallicharan, son of the legendary batsman Alvin Kallicharan, is a West Indian cricket enthusiast based in the UK who played at under-19 level. He is now a Recruitment Professional who writes about the game in his free time. He is a columnist for All Out Cricket Magazine. He also has own sports’ blog http://hetoreahamstring.co.uk)