Remembering Basil D’Oliveira

The death of Basil D'Oliveira last week couldn't be considered overly sad, given he lived to 80 and achieved a huge amount in what was also by the sound of it a pretty happy life.

For you youngsters; D'Oliveira was one of the best cricketers of the late 60s and 70s as well as being a significant figure in the fight against South African apartheid. England cancelled a tour there in 1968/9 when it was made clear by the South African authorities that the team was not welcome with D'Oliveira as part of it. That highlighted the issues and undoubtedly helped the anti-apartheid cause.

But my story is nothing to do with this – it is purely a cricket story. I went to see a testimonial match in the early 80s, somewhere around Maidenhead – an “old England” eleven versus a Berkshire county team, the best semi-professional cricketers from the area.

The first shock was Fred Trueman, one of England's greatest ever fast bowlers. But he was now in his early 50s, with a fine beer belly, and it was sad to see him trot slowly into bowl. But them the arm came over, the ball was pitched half way down the wicket, took off like a rocket and almost knocked the batsman's head off on its way to the wicket-keeper, standing a good 20 yards back from the wicket. Amazing. The pace generated purely from his upper body was startling.

But then Basil came on to bowl. Also in his fifties by now, his run up was even shorter than Fred's and his bowling looked as gentle and innocuous as Dad throwing a few balls down for his 8 year old to practice.

And the best batsmen in Berkshire were quite literally unable to play him, apparently incapable of working out where the ball was as it softly wobbled its way past their desperate lunges. He made them look stupid, as they groped for the ball, misjudging the pace, line, swing and seam, ball after ball. It looked like something out of Harry Potter – was this a magic ball that moved away from the bat at the last minute? His captain removed him from the action after about 4 overs, purely I suspect to make a game of it, during which time he had taken 4 or 5 wickets and apart from the odd edge through the slips, had barely been touched by the bat.

A great cricketer, by all accounts a good man, and one who will be remembered fondly by millions of people around the world.

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