Plain to See

Another weekend, and another old cricketer leaves the crease.

However, while many of the tributes to Peter Roebuck - including, perhaps, my own - were a little equivocal as a result of the man's enigmatic nature, there has been no such doubt where Basil D'Oliveira is concerned. What D'Oliveira did, with the assistance of John Arlott and others, helped to change the face of world sport, and, perhaps, in a small way, the world itself.

For one thing, apartheid is confined to history and South Africa is an accepted member of the international sporting and political community. For another, the current England team is what it is to a large extent because of the influence of players born and brought up in South Africa.

While, as someone who remembers cricket in the seventies well, it's all too easy to feel old these days, my memory doesn't quite stretch back as far as D'Oliveira's international career. However, I was at Lord's on a gloomy midsummer evening in 1976 when D'Oliveira, at least forty-four years old and badly injured, did his level best to pull round a hopeless cause in the Benson and Hedges Cup final against Kent. Despite what my father told me, I was too young to appreciate D'Oliveira's political significance - and the man himself would have played it down anyway - but I could see that he could bat. That much was plain to see.

Cricket, like any game, has its heroes and its sacred theatres. For anyone who knows it, the county ground at Worcester is up with the greatest of them. Many exceptional players - Graveney, Hick, D'Oliveira himself - have played out their greatest days there.

This has been a long time coming, but the shadow of the cathedral will hang a little heavier when next season starts.

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