A few minutes ago someone asked me whether I was a cricket fan. Does a bird love the sky?
I started hitting and throwing balls when I was five years old – my father, Tony, was a keen cricketer who, in more enlightened times would have played professional cricket. We played for the last time when he was 60 and I was 31. It was a privilege to stand at the other end of the wicket to a man dimmed by age, but with a technique and fire that meant the former didn’t matter. His eyes were going, but his technique was good enough so that he only needed a split second to see the ball before hitting it to the boundary.
I was as proud as he was when he watched me clout the ball around the ground with alacrity a few years before. If I was near 50, I used to wait until my father was settled down in the ground before I hit the decisive runs. His smile and applause was enough for me as I raised my bat in celebration.
But back to cricket and politics; I remember the late Kader Asmal, the former South African education minister, told me his first political act was carried out on a cricket ground, strange and true. Along with a horde of South Africans of colour, he chaired Australian captain Bobby Simpson off the field after a test match in Cape Town in January 1967 against South Africa. Simpson had scored a century in the winning match, even though Australia lost the series. In those days, South Africans of colour supported any team in the world against South Africa because of their opposition to apartheid. Asmal went on to fight the struggle and become a cabinet minister in the first democratic government of South Africa.
It was in Cape Town too that one of my heroes – by whom I was lucky enough to be coached by when I was a young hopeful for our county Worcestershire – was born and grew up to help usher in the end of apartheid.
Basil D’Oliveira broke just about every record in segregated cricket in Cape Town and went to England in his late thirties, the twilight of playing life for most players, to try to make it as a professional. He took a couple of years to qualify and then fought his way into the England team.
The selectors tried to keep him out of the tour South Africa in 1969, knowing that a player of colour would upset the apartheid authorities. D’Oliveira gave them little choice by scoring 158 against the Australians in the last international before the South African tour. Even then, the England selectors tried to leave him out, but, after a late withdrawal by another player, D’Oliveira played after all. The South Africans banned him and the tour was called off beginning the isolation of South African sport and starting the countdown to the end of apartheid.
Whenever I was down, my mother, who is also a cricket fan, used to tell me: “D’Oliveira could have sat down and felt sorry for himself in Cape Town, but he didn’t.”
It never ceased to inspire me. Yeah, sport can change lives.
BY: CHRIS BISHOP