Basil D'Oliveira    Getty Images
Basil D’Oliveira Getty Images

History of sport will remember Basil Lewis D Oliveira, born October 4, 1931 forever. It is well-known that the dispute over his ridiculous axing from the England tour of South Africa in 1968-69 led to a perfectly justified universal boycott of the Rainbow Nation for two decades. The entire saga has been retold many, many times in fact, too many times for it to be retold here. While he caused a stir in the world of sport, it must also not be forgotten that Dolly played 44 Tests, scoring 2,484 runs at 40.06 and snaring 47 wickets at 39.55 with his medium-paced bowling. A formidable all-rounder, his First-Class tally amounted to 19,490 runs at 40.26 and 551 wickets at 27.45, mostly for Worcestershire. Abhishek Mukherjee recollects 18 little-known facts about the Signal Hill swashbuckler one of the most significant names in the history of the sport.

Note: A lot has been written on the D Oliveira incident of 1968 that changed sport in South Africa. I will avoid the matter on purpose, for that is beyond the scope of a list.

1. Like father, like son

Lewis D Oliveira led St Augustine s when Basil made his debut for them. The club, one of the biggest in Cape Town, has the motto we strive not to produce champions but to create an environment wherein champions are inevitable . The club has produced Paul Adams and Basil.

It was the first time he played competitive cricket. Till then his immense talent had been restricted to street cricket, for neither St Joseph’s Catholic nor Zonnebloem Training College had the budget for sport facilities.

Lewis did not approve of the Basil s approach to batsmanship one full or risks. Basil often lofted the ball in the air, but often got away because of the brute force that carried the ball over the ropes. Lewis was not happy, but powerful strokeplay remained a crucial aspect of Basil s batting.

2. Ageless

Though Wisden records it as 1931, Basil s actual year of birth remains unconfirmed. Pat Murphy, who co-authored Time to Declare, wrote on BBC: Basil had to lie about his age because he thought if they realised how old he was they would not pick him for England. So he came down from born in 1935 at that time, solidifying his place in the team as 1933-born and when I wrote his book in 1980 he finally conceded he was born in 1928.

This meant he made his debut at 37; the D Oliveira Affair happened when he was 40; he played Test cricket till 43; and First-Class cricket till 51.

3. Cleaver for a bat

South Africa s heinous policy kept D Oliveira out of serious cricket in his twenties. That did not, however, stop him from becoming one of the most savage hitters, making him a much-feared batsman in cricket among the coloured in South Africa. His name was all over Golden City Post and Drum (founded by former South African cricketer Bob Crisp) the premier magazines for the coloured in South Africa.

Wisden recollects two instances in his award-winning biography of the man. The first was an eight-ball over where he hit seven sixes and a four. The other was an astonishing 70-minute 225 scored out of a team score of 236.

4. A lot from Arlott

As is widely known, John Arlott was not a staunch advocate of South Africa s Apartheid policy. We all know the story: when Arlott was asked to fill in his race on an immigration form to the country (the options were white , black , coloured , and Indian ), he wrote human .

It was 1959. D Oliveira, desperate to leave country for an opportunity to play cricket, wrote a letter to Arlott that began with words that have now become part of cricket folklore: Dear Mr Arlott, I daresay this is only a minor detail compared, I presume, to your other escapades, but I am sure that you would try your best and use your powerful assistance to help me…

Arlott did help.

5. Naomi s sacrifice

When Wes Hall declared himself unavailable for Middleton in Central Lancashire League in 1961, Arlott immediately proposed the name of D Oliveira. The offer was 450 not substantial, but it was at least a start. Despite that it was difficult for Basil to leave South Africa, more so because his wife Naomi was four months pregnant.

But Naomi rose to the occasion, insisting Bas left for England for this was their only chance . Unfortunately, there was no money to pay for the expensive air travel to London 200 in those days.

A fundraising committee of three was set up. Peter van der Merwe, later captain of South Africa (and, of course, white), played against a side captained by D Oliveira. The match, though not illegal, was played in utmost secrecy (what if?). It helped raise 150. The fund got him another 300. And D Oliveira took the flight.

Damian D Oliveira was born a month after Basil returned to Cape Town. They left in 1961, never to return. The couple later had another son, Shaun.

6. Minor adjustments

Coming from South Africa to an egalitarian English society came as a shock to the man. Before he boarded the train from London to Manchester, D Oliveira asked John Kay of Manchester News who had come to receive him at the airport about the coloured-only carriage. This happened after Kay, to quote Peter Oborne, retrieved D Oliveira from immigration, where he had been looking for the queue marked blacks and coloureds.

Kay later told Arlott that D Oliveira dined on the train, a fact he could not get over because he was allowed to eat and travel with white people. When he first saw a television set he sat down on the floor in front of it. There was more…

Paul Rocca, his teammate, recollected: I remember when Basil first came to Middleton. It would be April, pre-season nets. He came into the dressing-room and was introduced to us all. And after we d all said hello, he asked, Where do I get changed? We said, Well, in here with us, of course.

Similarly, Cec Wright: We got on the bus [on a Manchester night] and Baz said, I think we ought to go and sit upstairs. I said, Listen, Baz, man. This is England. We can sit wherever we like.

7. Leading South Africa

In an era when playing the whites was an -impossible proposition, leading South Africa was out of the question for a coloured cricketer. However, they could lead the non-white section. D Oliveira led South African Non-Europeans five times (it was a near-unanimous choice) twice when Kenya Asians toured South Africa in 1956-57, and thrice on the Kenya tour of 1958-59. The South Africans won all matches.

[Note: The tour also featured Lobo Abed, considered one of the finest South African wicketkeepers. Not as fortunate as D Oliveira, Abed never got to play a First-Class match.]

8. The Garfield Show

From his early days in England D Oliveira was, somewhat unfairly, compared to Garry Sobers. While D Oliveira had always maintained Sobers was the greatest cricketer he had seen, the media made a point to make the comparison. There were even speculations that Sobers checked the newspapers every Monday to keep a tab on D Oliveira.

The hype reached new levels when Sobers and D Oliveira both played in Central Lancashire League in 1960. Sobers outscored D Oliveira with 1,113 runs to 930, but the latter made up in average (48.95 to 48.39). D Oliveira also had 71 wickets at 11.72.

Their paths would cross time and again, with Sobers emerging victor every time.

9. Mayhem in Nairobi

The incident has been recollected far too often, but it is worth a recollection. D Oliveira was part of the African leg of an International XI in 1961-62. At Nairobi, East Africa were no match for the tourists, who reached 346 thanks to 178 from Hanif Mohammad. Subhash Gupte (6 for 76) then bowled out the hosts for 156. Colin McDonald and Tom Graveney got the tourists off to a solid start.

D Oliveira walked out at the fall of the second wicket. He overheard a spectator say Who s this guy? Never heard of him; let s go and have a drink. [Oborne interviewed the man personally]

The first fifty took 41 minutes, but the second took a mere 19. He slammed 7 sixes, 5 of them off the Kenyan fast bowler .

[Note: Oborne may have made an error here. The two bowlers likely to have gone for 5 sixes are Ugandan left-arm spinner Kishore Vasani (19-0-104-1) and Tanzanian off-spinner CD Patel (13-1-91-1).]

In his autobiography, D Oliveira reminisced: The savagery was quite coldly planned to benefit my career. I was well aware that I was alongside illustrious players from all over the world and that, when illustrious players talk in this game, it is generally to important people. I wanted to make sure they mentioned me.

Everton Weekes later called it the greatest innings he had seen.

10. Alcohol and Wisden

Given the prevalent laws, D Oliveira could not make it to the Worcestershire county side till 1965. It is not known whether the county cap triggered it, but he joined the group of heavy drinkers in the county side (which featured Don Kenyon and Graveney, among others).

In his second season (it was also the year when he obtained British citizenship) D Oliveira scored 1,536 runs at 38.40 and claimed 73 wickets at 20.76. He was named a Wisden Cricketer of the Year.

11. The Pollock incident

D Oliveira played for England XI against a Rest of the World XI in the Scarborough Festival Match of 1966 in what turned out to be a star-studded match. The match was, unfortunately, marred by a beamer sent by South African Peter Pollock: it missed D Oliveira s head by the narrowest of margins.

Pollock did not apologise. There was no she slipped . However, D Oliveira recalled a 1968 rendezvous in Australia between the two of them in Time to Declare. Pollock apologised and mentioned that the beamer was not intentional, but D Oliveira was having none of it: Do you honestly expect me to believe that? It s taken two years for you to apologise.

They later became friends.

12. The other Boycott

Headingley, 1967 witnessed a Test with two contrasting innings. While Geoff Boycott carved out an excruciating 555-ball 246 (in almost 10 hours), D Oliveira scored 109 in 183 balls quite quick, given the era.

Boycott was famously dropped for the next Test at Lord s for slow batting. D Oliveira, on the other hand, won the Walter Lawrence Trophy for the fastest Test hundred of the season. His hundred had come in 173 balls.

[Note: Barring 1966 to 1970, Walter Lawrence Trophy has been awarded to the fastest hundred in domestic cricket.]

13. Cat among the pigeons

There was more to The Oval, 1968 is remembered for Derek Underwood s deadly spell and hundreds of spectators joining the groundsmen with mops and buckets to help dry the ground.

D Oliveira scored a composed 158, which made sure the selectors looked foolish when they left him out for the South Africa tour. Umpire Charlie Elliott exclaimed oh God, you ve put the cat among the pigeons now the moment D Oliveira reached the three-figure mark.

Hell would break loose soon afterwards, for there was no logical reason for MCC to drop D Oliveira from there. Of those on the touring party only Barrington averaged more than his 972 runs at 48.60 at this stage, and Barrington, well, was Barrington.

14. You re one of us

One of D Oliveira s finest performances came in the Dacca Test of 1968-69. It was a hastily arranged series, and the Test was played after tremendous political turmoil in the city (this was two years before Bangladesh s Independence).

Pakistan were bowled out for 246 but had the tourists on the mat at 130 for 7. As John Snow joined D Oliveira, the senior batsman kept cool. He was, after all, used to violence. A four-pronged spin attack could not do much damage to the man, for he had been brought up on worse tracks ( mud-heaps , as he said himself) in inter-race matches back in Cape Town.

The Pakistani fielders kept sledging: You re not English, you re one of us. If you get out we can beat them. An unflappable D Oliveira remained unbeaten on 114; England reached 274.

15. Miser, forever

D Oliveira was hardly a strike bowler at Test level (121 balls per wicket), but he made up for that with accuracy. In fact, his economy rate of 1.95 is the best for any English seamer who has bowled over 5,000 balls in the Post-War era. Even if one remove the filter by country, only three seamers Tom Goddard (1.64), Ken Mackay (1.78), and Gerry Gomez (1.82) have bettered him.

16. Homecoming

Something dramatic happened in 1972-73. D Oliveira was brought to Eastern Province as player-coach for two seasons by South African Bottling Company, local distributors of Coca-Cola. In a Dadabhay Trophy match against Transvaal he slammed 182 when nobody else reached 50. But there was more to it.

The Eastern Provinces Cricket Association official wrote: There is no doubt that the presence of Basil D Oliveira in the Eastern Province has been of tremendous significance to our cricket. Never before we had so much spectator interest as well as other forms of interest in cricket and our Association. As far as our EP team is concerned, never before have they so smartly taken the field, their fielding was excellent and their running between the wickets an object lesson, the example set by Dolly himself.

Could homecoming have been sweeter?

17. Family matters

The success and legacy of D Oliveira has been carried on by three generations. Basil s brother Ivan made a solitary appearance for Leicestershire. Kelvin Thomas, a nephew, was also a First-Class cricketer (he changed his name to Kashief from Kelvin after he embraced Islam).

Basil s son Damian (remember Naomi s pregnancy?) followed his father s footsteps into the Worcestershire side, as did his son Brett. Damian s other sons Marcus and Dominic both played age-level cricket for the same county. Damian also became Academy Director at New Road.

18. Another tower, conquered

This is a popular one among quizzers: in one of the episodes of BBC sitcom Fawlty Towers, The Major (Ballard Blakeley) announced to Basil Fawlty (John Cleese) that Dolly had scored a century.

(Abhishek Mukherjee is the Chief Editor of CricketCountry and CricLife. He tweets at @ovshake42.)