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?It?s on your conscience?

Tom Cartwright, best known as the player who Basil D'Oliveira was picked to replace for the tour of South Africa in 1968-69, speaks on why it would be "morally wrong" to go to zimbabwe.

india Updated: Jan 10, 2003 10:12 IST

Whether or not England pull out of their World Cup match in Zimbabwe, the game has already been tarnished. Leading players and administrators stand accused of being amoral, of being incapable of telling right from wrong. Few people look to politicians for moral guidance but cricket folk, apparently unburdened by conscience, do. They should look to Tom Cartwright instead.

Cartwright, an outstanding craftsman for Warwickshire, Somerset and England in the 60s and 70s and now an award-winning coach, was always one of the game's shrewdest thinkers and his inquisitive mind was never restricted by the boundary rope. He refused a coaching job in what was then the Rhodesia of Ian Smith in 1969 and told Somerset he did not want to play against South Africa in the ultimately cancelled 1970 tour.

Most famously, he withdrew from the 1968-69 tour to South Africa, which led to Basil D'Oliveira being chosen in his place. The subsequent cancellation of the tour was followed by the isolation of South Africa from Test cricket for 22 years.

Cartwright said he was injured but it is difficult to see how he would have gone anyway. He had toured apartheid South Africa with England in 1964-65 and was upset by what he saw. "If I was playing for England today I would refuse to go to Zimbabwe. I was brought up in the War, in the days of ration books. How could I play cricket when, just down the road, starving people are queuing up for food? The Zimbabwe decision should have been made by the ICC and not each country's board. The ECB is faced with a difficult decision. They should say no. But if they decide to go, it is up to each player to stand up and make his personal choice. Everyone should be free to opt out. That would certainly be my decision."

Cartwright, 67 and living in Neath, is something of a rarity in the flannelled game where right-wingers, like right- handers, predominate. In his admirable book Fragments of Idolatry, our own David Foot tells of the time Somerset's Bill Andrews was told to remove a Labour leaflet from his front window.

Cartwright, born in a miner's cottage in Coventry with no running water, is of the left. "I used to feel a bit isolated in the dressing room. There were only a handful of us in the country. Mike Brearley used to talk to me about South Africa but some seemed afraid of expressing opinions. In 1970 I was told that out of 330-odd professional cricketers only seven were uncomfortable about playing South Africa. I don't think much has changed.

"But it's so naive when people say that cricket and politics shouldn't mix. In the case of South Africa they brought politics into the game. Apartheid in cricket was a political statement. I know the situation in Zimbabwe is very different but the same principle applies."

Cartwright, the outstanding medium-pace bowler of his generation, with legendary accuracy and seam movement, took 1,536 wickets at 19.11 and had seven centuries in his 13,710 runs, at an average of 21.32. He was unlucky to play only five times for England.

He then played a handful of games for Glamorgan before retiring. His values were forged by being taken down a pit as a youngster, by standing in a dole queue with his father and by spending his winters working on a motor assembly line.

"The game has changed so much. Then, it was played by tough men, just out of the war. But everyone helped each other."

But values never change for Cartwright. "I've been to both South Africa and Zimbabwe and what really saddens me more than anything is that there was a wonderful opportunity for meaningful change. But short-term greed has been followed by long-term catastrophe."

The Guardian

First Published: Jan 09, 2003 23:39 IST