APARTHEID: A Point To CoverMartin Chandler |
Author: Sengupta, Arunabha
Rating: 4 stars
At the start of the year I did wonder whether those interested in the fiftieth anniversary of the Stop The Seventy Tour campaign might not simply have to make a choice between which of the three books I knew were to be published on the subject. I decided then that I would have to take on the onerous task of assisting potential purchasers to make their choice.
I have already reviewed two excellent books, Tour de Farce and Barbed Wire and Cucumber Sandwiches and, regular readers may recall, rather ducked the direct comparison by suggesting that readers really ought to consider buying both.
I have now had a chance to read the third of the triumvirate and find that once again the tricky judgment can be avoided. It may be that some have taken my advice and bought both of the other books, and doubtless some have decided that whatever I may have said in my previous reviews that they were only going to get one and did so. Whichever camp you are in however you will be missing a trick if you don’t also make a point of acquiring Arunabha Sengupta’s contribution to our knowledge of this vital part of history.
The first point to be made about Sengupta’s book is that the section of it that is devoted to the Stop The Seventy Tour campaign does not begin until page 270. Before that he sets out the history of South Africa in great detail. Before starting the book I knew why the Boer Wars took place, and in very general terms how those conflicts panned out. After that, other than knowing that the abhorrent apartheid policy passed into law in 1948, I knew virtually nothing about that subject until very recently when, thanks to Richard Parry and Jonty Winch and their book about Krom Hendricks, I began to understand.
In many ways I feel a little disappointed in myself for not making a greater effort in the past to learn about this aspect of our world’s development. That I have not done so is in part because on those occasions when my curiosity was aroused, which was generally in a cricketing context, there proved not to be a great deal of material around. Sengupta’s patience and researching abilities have saved me the task of seeking out the original sources for myself.
That there are detailed studies of South African history around I do not doubt, and a less diligent writer could easily have done a half decent job of the early chapters of APARTHEID: A Point to Cover by paraphrasing that. Sengupta has not however cut any corners, and at no point in his account does he lose his grip on his audience of cricket lovers, and much of the story is woven into the context of the life of the man who in many ways was at the eye of the storm, Basil D’Oliveira.
Sengupta is a fine storyteller as he demonstrated in Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of the Ashes, and whilst his subject matter this time round is very different he is equally adept at holding his reader’s attention with the quality of his narrative. A number of aspects of the book particularly impressed me, foremost amongst which was finally getting to the bottom of the tour that was arranged for a West Indian side led by Frank Worrell in 1959. In the end the venture was abandoned and I now understand a story I have never seen properly explained before.
Another point that I had some knowledge of, but I now know I had never fully got to grips with was the influence of Drum magazine, founded by the Springbok pace bowler of the 1930s, Bob Crisp. It is a small point in the context of Sengupta’s story, but illustrates how deeply he has dug to put flesh on the bones of what he writes.
As the 1950s gave way to the 1960s the wider world was less ready to tolerate what was going on in South Africa and there is much about that disapproval. Again I learnt much and was reminded of a good deal I had missed. A good example of that appeared in Jim Laker’s 1960 autobiography, Over to Me, a book I had read and indeed some time ago reviewed here. I was clearly far too taken up with the points I mentioned in my review to notice Laker’s prescient remarks about the 1964/65 tour to South Africa and what he believed the future held. Had Laker’s former Surrey teammate Raman Subba Row not decided to retire in 1961 when still only 29 then the ‘D’Oliveira Affair’ might well have been brought forward four years and been known as the ‘Subba Row Affair’
Any account of the Stop The Seventy Tour campaign must look at two things, those being the D’Oliveira Affair and the role of Peter Hain. As a further demonstration of the thoroughness of his preparation Sengupta spends a chapter looking at D’Oliveria’s part in the tour of the Caribbean in 1967/68, his lack of form and off pitch behaviour sometimes cited as reasons for his initially being left out of the party to tour South Africa.
As for Hain his life and times are woven into the book in much the same way as D’Oliveira’s. He also provides a generous and succinct foreword as well as giving his time to Sengupta as he researched the book. How much that time was valued is demonstrated in the photograph of the pair that appears on the very last page, although a photograph taken in the Palace of Westminster against a background that contains no wall art whatsoever came as a surprise.
Having teed it up so well Sengupta then, of course, spends the last section of his book explaining the famous campaign. Despite having been fully conversant with that by now it was still a pleasure to read his take on events even if there were, unsurprisingly in the circumstances, no particular revelations.
All in all APARTHEID: A Point to Cover is highly recommended. It was an ambitious project which Sengupta has completed in some style and at £10.99 for a bulky book it is excellent value and, as a further incentive to would be purchasers 80% of the proceeds this month will go to the Coronavirus Relief Fund.
And finally, a word about the book’s illustrations of which there are many. Not all, I suspect because of the limitations of the publishing platform used, have been reproduced as well as they might have been, but the many previously unpublished line drawings that illustrate the book are an excellent touch and, hopefully, artist Maha will get her own book in the not too distant future.