Home Away from Home
"... A letter came from England that changed my life. It was from John Arlott. After two years of trying, he had achieved the seemingly impossible - a contract for the unknown D'Oliveira in the Central Lancashire League with Middleton.
"It was just for one season and the money was only £450 ... I tried to play cricket. I was an absolute disaster in those early weeks at Middleton. After just a few days in the nets, I realized I knew nothing about this game. I'd been used to hitting the ball as far as possible and expecting a fast bowler to try to knock my block off. I'd never seen the ball swing through the air before and the ball kept 'stopping' so I was through with my shot far too early with the ball going straight up in the air. I was a novice and what's more, everyone knew it. The welcome I received from all the players, the local press and Club officials was tremendous - but I knew what they were all saying in those few weeks: 'This guy's a waste of money, he can't play in English conditions'. In my heart of hearts, I didn't disagree with them but I wasn't going to show it ... I practiced and practiced - yet I was still a disaster when it came to the actual games. In my first five matches I made a grand total of 25 runs! I was desperately homesick.
"It was getting embarrassing because one of my duties as club professional involved coaching the youngsters in the afternoon and then the senior players at night. What a joke, I could hear them say - the coach who can't even sort out his own game!
"Then - just like many other critical times in my life - I had a stroke of luck. I got some advice from ... Eric Price ... who had been a fine slow left - arm bowler for Lancashire and Essex in his day and now, with Middleton ... On the way to those early matches he'd talk to me about the techniques needed to play the game in England. 'Wait and relax', he'd say, 'the weather will get better and the wickets harder'. Till then, you've got wait for the ball to come to you and work it away off the back foot. And your bowling is far too short. Pitch it up. If you keep dropping it short, they'll murder you because you are just not sharp enough. ... His advice was invaluable. In the next match, I got 78 against Werneth on a lovely sunny day and a good wicket. I never looked back after that knock. ... Although my frustrations and periods of depression were many in that 1960 season, there were two big plusses: I scored nearly a thousand runs and took 70 - odd wickets but, more importantly, I finished top of the averages in the Central Lanchashire League, ahead of Gary Sober ...
What a joke, I could hear them say - the coach who can't even sort out his own game!
"Yet the old ambitions were still gnawing away at me. I reached 1 000 runs in that second season, more than Sobers again, although his average was better. I was hungry for cricket and I'd stop and watch any game, in case I could learn something. I was beginning to spread my cricketing wings as well ... During the summer of 1963, things were going well with Middleton ... But I still hankered for county cricket, especially after my encouraging performances on the Ron Roberts tours...
"I went to Worcester determined to do two things: to make a grade in county cricket and to cover my age. ... I began the 1965 season in the first team and our first championship match was at Worcester against Essex. I desperately wanted to do well - I did and I scored 108 ... Things went fantastically well for me in that season. We won the championship and Tom Graveney and I were the only two batsmen to reach 1500 runs in the county championship. And I also picked up some wickets - and my first 99 in first class cricket ... In 1966 I achieved something I shall be proud of till my dying day - I played for England, the country that gave me a chance denied to me by the land of my birth."
- From: D'Oliveira, B with Murphy, P, 1980, Time to Declare: An Autobiography, Macmillan Publishers: Johannesburg, pp 6-33