Apartheid, Basil D’Oliveira, Mike Proctor and the boycott
Proteas / 25 December 2019, 08:48am / DANIEL MATTHEWS
The ties that bind cricket in South Africa and England stretch all the way back to the days of empire. They are long and frayed.
To this day, the countries remain entangled by a shared history and numerous players of shared allegiance. Few have produced as many fireworks as Kevin Pietersen. None has caused greater reverberations than Basil D’Oliveira. And few missed out on more than South African Mike Procter.
Procter’s story — tied with D’Oliveira’s — is part of a new BT documentary to mark 50 years since the ‘Stop the Tour’ protests which accompanied South African sporting teams visiting England and led to cricketing isolation in 1970.
‘The first time I realised something was a bit abnormal was in 1963, when I’d toured England with the South African schools cricket teams,’ remembers all-rounder Procter in the BT documentary. ‘Coming from Heathrow airport into London there were white people cleaning the streets, which was very unlike South Africa where the black people did all that kind of work — that planted a seed in my mind.’
Back home South Africa’s all-white cricket and rugby teams symbolised the supremacy and subjugation that swept through society.
South Africa were suspended by FIFA and barred from the Olympics. Then D’Oliveira gave the cricket authorities a headache, too. A mixed-race all-rounder, he came to Britain after being exiled in his own land, rising from the Lancashire leagues to the England XI.
In 1968, his century in the final Ashes Test of the summer should have secured his spot on that winter’s tour. The only snag? They were meant to be heading to South Africa.
‘It was automatic as far as I was concerned,’ said Procter. ‘It wasn’t even considered that he wouldn’t be in that touring party. You had a guy who has done so fantastically well.’
To the outrage of many in Britain, however, the all-rounder was left out.
Eventually D’Oliveira was called up after Tom Cartwright withdrew from the squad, prompting South African Prime Minister John Vorster to claim: ‘This is not the team of the MCC, it is the team of the anti-apartheid movement.’
So the MCC cancelled the tour. Four months later, though, they invited South Africa to tour in 1970.
That infuriated anti-apartheid campaigners, notably Peter Hain, who grew up in South Africa and is now a British Labour peer. The battle he led to ensure the boycott of South African sport is told in Stop the Tour, the latest in the BT Sport Films series.
‘Peter Hain was the guy that actually stopped me playing international cricket,’ said Procter. ‘It was for the right reason — never in my mind were we going to tour again until the country changed as a whole.’ Eventually the British government stepped in, cancelled the 1970 tour and the ICC banned South Africa from international cricket for 21 years.