Cricket mourns Basil D'Oliveira: The man who challenged apartheid

Basil D'Oliveira batting for England against Australia at the Oval in London in 1968.

Story highlights

  • Basil D'Oliveira dies aged 80 after a long battle with Parkinson's Disease
  • Born in South Africa, he emigrated to England in 1960 to escape apartheid
  • His selection for a tour of his homeland caused an international incident
  • South Africa's national sports teams were banned from competition soon after
The cricket player who helped spark apartheid-era South Africa's sporting isolation has died at the age of 80.
Basil D'Oliveira, a "colored" man of Indian-Portuguese heritage from Cape Town, was barred from playing first-class cricket in his home country. He caused a political storm when he was selected by his adopted nation England for the team's 1968-69 tour of South Africa.
Having initially been left out of the squad after the South African government exerted pressure, he was called up when a teammate was injured -- and the tour was subsequently canceled amid international outrage.
D'Oliveira, a powerful batsman known as "Dolly," went on to play 44 Tests for England, scoring 2,484 runs at an average of 40 and taking 47 wickets with his right-arm medium-pace bowling.
He battled Parkinson's disease in his later years, but passed away "peacefully" according to his son -- who like his father played for Worcestershire and is now academy director at the county club.
"It is a sad time for us as a family but, after a long battle against Parkinson's disease, dad passed away peacefully," Damian D'Oliveira told the England and Wales Cricket Board's official website on Saturday.
"Although it is difficult, we will celebrate a great life rather than mourn a death."
Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola said D'Oliveira was an "inspiration."
"Dolly was a true legend and a son of whom all South Africans can be extremely proud," Majola said.
"He was a man of true dignity and a wonderful role model as somebody who overcame the most extreme prejudices and circumstances to take his rightful place on the world stage."
Having captained South Africa's non-white cricket team and played for the national non-white football side, a frustrated D'Oliveira emigrated to England in 1960 at the age of 29 after writing to renowned cricket commentator John Arlott and asking for help.
He was well past his prime as a player when he finally made his debut for England six years later.
"One can only imagine what he might have achieved had he made his debut as he should have done at the age of 20 on South Africa's tour of England in 1951," Majola said.
"The circumstances surrounding his being prevented from touring the country of his birth with England in 1968 led directly to the intensification of opposition to apartheid around the world and contributed materially to the sports boycott that turned out to be an Achilles heel of the apartheid government.
"Throughout this shameful period in South Africa's sporting history, Basil displayed a human dignity that earned him worldwide respect and admiration. His memory and inspiration will live on among all of us."
D'Oliveira wrote about his arrival in England on his official website.
"April 1st 1960 was probably one of the most astonishing days of my life. The plane landed at Heathrow Airport on a very gloomy and damp spring day. I was filled with misgivings and my inferiority complex was at a very low ebb," he said.
"I'd left (my wife) Naomi behind. In a few months I would be a father for the first time, and what kind of future could I guarantee Naomi and my child? However as I left with the assurance that the family and friends would take great care of her, an old aunt pulled me to one side and told me to aim high, there's room for everyone up there -- a motto which has stayed with me always.
"I am proud of my color, of what I've achieved for myself and non-whites all over the world, and I dearly love my fellow citizens of Cape Town. I often think back to those days in South Africa, when I was trying to break out of the social and sporting straitjacket imposed by the color of my skin."
Meanwhile, South Africa ended the third day of the second Test against Australia with a lead of 199 runs after Hashim Amla and A.B. de Villiers took the home side to 229-3 in their second innings in Johannesburg.
Amla was unbeaten on 89 and De Villiers was on 70 when bad light and rain ended play early on Saturday, having added 139.
Captain Graeme Smith was the second man to fall after making 36, while Australia's 18-year-old fast-bowling debutant Pat Cummins took the wickets of Jacques Rudolph (24) and key batsman Jacques Kallis, who passed 12,000 Test runs with his first-innings 54 but this time could manage only two.
South Africa won the first game of the two-match series by eight wickets in Cape Town.