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Monday, 13 February 2012
Page: 997


Mr McCORMACK (Riverina) (12:51): Cricket lost one of its finest when Basil Lewis D'Oliveira died, aged 80, on 19 November 2011. Moreover, nations throughout the world which play the great game of cricket felt the loss of a man affectionately nicknamed 'Dolly', who gave so much on the field and, more importantly, made such an impression and impact off the field.

But we should not mourn for D'Oliveira; rather, we should celebrate all he gave, what he achieved and his lasting legacy not just to sport but also to race relations within the community of nations. He will be best remembered for the dramatic and, indeed, noble role he played in helping to defy apartheid in sport. A person of mixed race—in South African terms 'coloured'—yet a gifted cricketer in his native Cape Town, D'Oliveira was denied the opportunity to play for the country of his birth. This was due to the unfair, discriminatory racial segregation of the apartheid regime.

D'Oliveira went to England to become a test player there, and his eventual selection for the 1968-69 England tour to South Africa so offended John Vorster's government that it refused to allow him to play and the tour was cancelled. Subsequently, South Africa was exiled from international cricket until the fall of apartheid in 1994. The determined yet dignified way in which D'Oliveira dealt with the uproar endeared him to the British public and ultimately proved to be a turning point in the South African attitude to segregated matches. It took many years to change, but the D'Oliveira affair played a pivotal part in the start of a gradual easing of official segregation in South African sport. It also significantly hurt the regime's world standing.

D'Oliveira never desired to be the focus of attention or controversy. Whilst he was proud that the role he played brought the injustice of apartheid to wider attention, he was a reserved, quiet individual. All he wanted to do was to play cricket as well as he could and at the highest level. His achievements are testament to his ability. In 44 tests, he scored 2,484 runs, with five centuries and a top score of 158. He was a handy bowler, claiming 47 wickets. I know the member for Banks—and I love the way he described him as a beacon—also quoted Peter Mason, who penned D'Oliveira's obituary in the Guardian:

From an early age, D'Oliveira was the best cricketer in the non-white leagues of South Africa. At 21, he hit seven sixes and one four in an eight ball over, and at 23 scored 225 in an astonishing 75 minutes—out of his team's total of 236. He was a successful medium pace bowler too, taking nine for two in one innings. …

Had he been white, D'Oliveira would probably have played in his teens for South Africa and might well have risen to be acknowledged as one of the greatest cricketers of all time. But while his success in non-white cricket was unmatched, he spent his prime years up to the age of 28 confined to playing on scrubby matting wickets on wasteland. By 1959, disillusioned and disheartened, he had become resigned to his situation. He married his childhood Sweetheart Naomi and channelled his efforts into his job as a machinist at a printing firm.

But class always shines through and eventually he made his first-class debut at 30 years of age. The first non-white South African to play county cricket, D'Oliveira's remarkable middle order batting and economical bowling made an immediate impact. He scored a century on his county championship debut in 1964 and helped Worcestershire to win the competition that year. The rest, as they say, is history.

The test series between South Africa and England is now known as the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy—how appropriate. D'Oliveira is survived by Naomi and their two sons, Damian, who also played for Worcestershire, and Shaun. As Peter Mason penned:

"Dolly" was a very popular figure in his adopted home: he had also carried the hopes of so many of his black South African countrymen and - through grit, determination and huge skill - triumphed on their behalf as well as his own.

May he rest in peace.