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Cricketer Basil D'Oliveira dies at 80

JOHANNESBURG -- Basil D'Oliveira, the South Africa-born England cricketer who became a pivotal figure in the sport's battle against apartheid, died yesterday after a long illness. He was 80.

His death in England was announced by Cricket South Africa.

D'Oliveira played 44 tests and four one-day internationals for England, his adopted nation. He was prevented from playing top-level cricket in South Africa in the 1950s because he wasn't white.

He was the central figure in cricket's decision to finally turn its back on South Africa during its apartheid era. In one of the game's great controversies, D'Oliveira was on the England team that was to tour South Africa in 1968. South Africa deemed that unacceptable and the tour was called off, leading to more than 20 years of cricket isolation.

After the "D'Oliveira Affair," South Africa did not play another match outside the country for 23 years and did not play any international cricket between 1970 and 1991. Only when apartheid was dismantled following Nelson Mandela's release from prison was the country readmitted to the cricket community.

Other sports also banned ties with South Africa as a result, and the country's soccer team did not return to the international stage until 1992.

"Throughout this shameful period in South Africa's sporting history, Basil displayed a human dignity that earned him worldwide respect and admiration," Cricket South Africa chief executive Gerald Majola said yesterday.

In many ways, D'Oliveira's role in changing views toward apartheid overshadowed -- and distracted from -- his immense talent as a cricketer.

He scored 2,484 test runs, averaging 40.06, hit five centuries and took 47 wickets with his probing away-swingers. He also scored more than 19,000 first-class runs and took 551 wickets in his 16-year career with England and county side Worcestershire.

D'Oliveira was born in Cape Town in 1931 and showed great skill as a batsman and accurate medium pace bowler. But because he was classified as nonwhite in South Africa, he wasn't allowed to play first-class games.

He was persuaded to move to England by the cricket broadcaster and journalist John Arlott, who found D'Oliveira a place as a professional player in the Lancashire leagues in northern England.

His significance to the game -- and to England and South Africa -- is recognized by the Basil D'Oliveira Trophy, which the countries now compete for whenever they play a test series against each other.

Yesterday, on the third day of the second test between South Africa and Australia in Johannesburg, South African players wore black arm bands to honor D'Oliveira.

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