Saturday 19th November 2011
“STOP telling the same old stories, Basil, and come and listen. Marcus has finished his poem for you.”
Until meeting Naomi, his wife, the evening had been thoroughly miserable. I’d almost given up and gone home. Not because the cricket was poor – though it wasn’t the most exciting of matches – but because I’d not been able to do my job: the first ever occasion, as far as I knew, when the crowd at a county cricket day/night fixture were to be entertained by a peripatetic performance poet.
“What’s the matter?” she’d asked. “There you are, dressed up like a circus act, but looking totally fed up.”
“I’ve been, er… let down. A senior official has banned me from my preferred stamping-ground.”
And I explained how I’d been ordered off the terraces and told to stay put in the sponsors’ enclosure, despite earlier assurances from the marketing office that I could roam at will; despite having talked excitedly about it with Jonathan Agnew on Radio 5 Live the previous evening; despite my promise to the Sky Sports crew I’d be back during the interval with a summary in verse of the Worcestershire innings.
So she and I talked about her husband, while he smilingly repeated anecdotes to revellers standing by the bar, with their backs to the play.
“As there’s no point writing about the match, I’ll compose something for Dolly.”
“That’d be nice. He’ll appreciate that.”
So I did; as did he, Naomi having eventually drawn him away from the throng.
I wrote out a copy for him, in my best handwriting: the schoolboy I had been when he not only played Test cricket for England, but also helped smite apartheid over the boundary, into the long grass.
There is no example clearer
Of exemplary sporting heroes
Than Basil D’Oliveira
OBE – he who rose
To the highest level of all
With both bat and ball.
A magnificent player
A dignified figure
With the charm and grace
To win matches and hearts
The world over.
I count myself privileged
To have seen him play and
Now to have shaken his warm hand.