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Last Updated: Monday, 29 November, 2004, 15:51 GMT
D'Oliveira exposed apartheid disgrace
By Martin Gough

It is enough of a challenge to score a century in Test cricket, but to single-handedly take on the might of world politics is too much for any single individual.

Basil D'Oliveira
D'Oliveira was forced to move to England to play Test cricket
History looks on Basil D'Oliveira as having played a major role in bringing down South Africa's apartheid regime.

Had the circumstances been different he would just have been one of the finest cricketers of his generation - outstanding but not unique.

Even 36 years later, he is famous not for his five Test tons but for the affair that saw South Africa's racist policies exposed for the world to see.

And what had been a cosy conspiracy between sporting bodies, turning a blind eye to injustice both on and off the field, was also brought into the spotlight.

D'Oliveira's personal story is remarkable in itself.

Denied the chance to play for South Africa, he took the long route of moving to England and qualifying to play for his adopted country.

BBC Four, Sunday 20 June 2004 1000-1120BST
However, his dream of returning home and playing at the highest level was blocked by the South African government, leading to the ban on sporting ties that stood until 1991.

But equally incredible, as a new BBC Four programme illustrates, is the way it uncovered the murky machinations of the establishment in attempting to maintain the status quo.

It is a story that resonates particularly at present, as the cricket world wrings its hands over the situation in Zimbabwe.

At some point, those who claim sport and politics should not mix are presented with irrefutable evidence to the contrary.

South Africa had been picking only white players since their introduction to Test cricket in 1889 and refused to play any country other than England, Australia and New Zealand.

Bree Bulbulia, the chairman of selectors for the South Africa "non-white" team in 1958, tells the programme: "During that period eight or nine non-white players would have made the South Africa side on merit."

It's an amazing example of the connection between sport and politics
Programme director Paul Yule
It took D'Oliveira, who was reckoned to have scored more than 80 centuries in Cape Town club cricket and once made 200 in an hour, to highlight the inequalities.

The player himself was reluctant to pronounce on the politics that swirled around his selection.

Now 72, he gives a rare interview to the programme but still makes it clear that for him it was a personal battle to prove he deserved the chance to play Test cricket.

"I had to take the thing [my place in the Test team] back; I had to play for England and go back to South Africa," he says.

The programme reveals the extent to which the England authorities colluded to keep D'Oliveira, who had just scored 158 against Australia in the final Test of the summer, out of the touring party.

Basil D'Oliveira in action for Worcestershire

It glosses over the fact that Tom Cartwright, whose withdrawal on fitness grounds saw D'Oliveira called in at the last minute, was himself an opponent of apartheid.

But the upheaval it caused saw the South African government refuse to let the tour go ahead and triggered the cutting of all sporting links with the country until apartheid was dismantled.

For a sports-mad populace, these sanctions were the most obvious sign the world did not approve of its country's policies.

In the middle of it all was a man who had to travel around the world, change nationality, make his case for selection by sheer weight of runs and wickets and still not know whether that was enough.

Four years ago, D'Oliveira was honoured as one of the 10 South African cricketers of the last century in a ceremony at the Newlands stadium in Cape Town.

It was the first time he had ever set foot on the playing area of his home town Test ground, but he was received as a favourite son.

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