The South African–born England cricketer Basil D’Oliveira has died, having battled Parkinson’s disease for several years. Aside from his capable batsmanship and usefulness as a bowler, D’Oliveira will always be known as the man who encapsulated the racism within cricket during the 1960s.
D’Oliveira (who was “colored” under Apartheid’s racial-classification system and couldn’t play for his home country, which was in every way reserved and preserved for whites) moved to England and eventually qualified to play for the national side. When the English selectors failed to pick him for the 1968–69 tour of South Africa, the media detected either lack of courage or something worse on the English authorities’ behalf. When one of the touring members fell ill, and the English selectors finally picked D’Oliveira, the South Africans predictably protested: not only could they not have any player of color in their own team, they couldn’t play any team who had any individuals of color in it. The tour was canceled, and ultimately all national cricket sides boycotted South Africa until 1992.
The D’Oliveira incident exposed the ugly racism that tinged all aspects of cricketing life. It also went a long way to opening the conversation that cricket needed to have about race. Through the entire episode, D’Oliveira showed grace and resilience, and he continued to play cricket for and in England. These days, the South African side contains several players of color. More significantly, perhaps, the teams South Africa plays do as well.