Former Zimbabwe pacer Henry Olonga walked into the Adelaide Oval wearing a black tweed coat, a woollen hat, spectacles, and a leather bag, looking like a professor teaching at the University of Adelaide across the river Torrens.
On a day when Zimbabwe lost to the Netherlands in the T20 World Cup, Olonga spoke about what the national team is doing, despite living a life far removed from the cricket field that gave him name and fame.
Olonga wasn’t a great cricketer, and he wasn’t even Zimbabwe’s best during the country’s golden era, but his beaded hair, slinging action, and mean bouncer to get Sachin Tendulkar out on a lifeless Sharjah track made him a household name in India.
Not to mention his five-for against India in the 1999 World Cup at Grace Road.
“I am now a singer. My life is filled with music. I just finished a couple of shows on Friday. My first solo show without our band. It was just me and the audience,” Olonga explained to PTI while sitting in an Adelaide coffee shop.
“After cricket, I did a lot of things. I played for Lashings XI for a couple of matches with the great Sachin Tendulkar. VVS Laxman also took part. “I did a few commentary gigs many moons ago,” Olonga recalled, recalling his life 15 years ago.
He and his family have happily settled in Adelaide, one of Australia’s most peaceful cities.
“Life then took me in different directions.” I have two daughters, the older of whom is about to turn 12 and the younger of whom is about to turn 10. My wife is an Australian citizen, and I have applied for citizenship as well. I’m hoping to get it soon.
“And who knows, you might see me on the athletics track once I qualify.” “Throwing javelin,” he said, laughing aloud in reference to his slinging motion, which earned him a chucking penalty during his debut Test series in Pakistan in 1995.
At the age of 27, he retires from international cricket
Olonga’s most memorable appearance in a Zimbabwe jersey came during the 2003 World Cup, when he and Andy Flower wore black armbands in one of the games to protest the policies of the Robert Mugabe-led government and to “mourn the death of democracy in the country.”
Olonga was opposed to the Mugabe government’s decision to seize farmland from the white community.
In fact, former Zimbabwean Information Minister Jonathan Mayo called Olonga’s protest “Uncle Tom with black skin and a white mask” at the time. It was a reference to the most famous literary character, ‘Uncle Tom,’ from Harriet Beecher Stowe’s novel ‘Uncle Tom’s Cabin,’ published in 1852.
“I had to abandon everything I had built in Zimbabwe for myself and my family. But that is the cost of standing up to a dictator like Robert Mugabe,” he said, still having the same feelings about Mugabe.
“As a result of my protest, I received death threats and was forced to flee Zimbabwe. I don’t think about my time in Zimbabwe very often. I reflect on my new life,” Olonga said, recalling the time when the government had charged him with treason.
He had spent nearly a decade in exile in England before moving to Australia with his wife Tara and their two young children.
There are wounds from leaving one’s home country, but Australia has provided him with so much to look forward to.
“I have several business ventures. I enjoy making music and creating art. I do public speaking (after dinner) and music videos, as well as some acting. That keeps me quite busy at the moment, but to be honest, I don’t look behind very often. “There’s no point in dwelling on the past,” said a fan of American singer and lyricist Josh Groban.
Tendulkar’s and Indian fans’ memories
Olonga believes that his beaded hair and colourful attire helped him stand out, and Tendulkar’s dismissal at Sharjah only added to the intrigue.
“I was a colourful character. I used to have funny hair (beaded), and I still do. I played with zeal. I wasn’t the most precise bowler. I believe that on my day, I could be effective, which is why people remember me.
“I recall some of my cricketing days.” I had a good day when I knocked Tendulkar out, and a bad day when he dominated me in the final (tri-series in Sharjah 1998). What I liked about cricket was its competitive spirit. ”
Zimbabwe were a good team, but we didn’t win many games
Olonga appeared in 80 international games for Zimbabwe, including 30 Tests (68 wickets) and 50 One-Day Internationals (ODIs) (58 wickets). Nothing out of the ordinary, and he makes no lofty claims about his cricketing career.
“International cricket was always a challenge. Certain aspects are extremely satisfying. That was fantastic if you won. We had a good team – Heath Streak, the Flower brothers, Neil Johnson, Murray Goodwin, Paul Strang, and Guy Whittal – but to be honest, we weren’t winning much.
“You speak of taking the rough with the smooth. There was a lot of rough play for Zimbabwe, and we weren’t well compensated. It was a fantastic team, and we believed we had one of the best fielding units at various World Cups, which is very similar to what this team is doing.” It was extremely difficult to win matches, let alone tournaments, during his time with Zimbabwe.
“We played in a fantastic era when Australia was the best team, there was a very good Indian team, and Pakistanis were a great side as well – Wasim and Waqar, Saeed Anwar, Inzamam, it was difficult to go on and win a tournament against these kind of sides,” says a former player.
When you see money in cricket, you stop and think
Olonga considers how much cricket has gained commercially in the last 15 years since the introduction of T20, as well as the opportunities that former players now have to laugh all the way to the bank.
“Seeing what’s going on around me gives me food for thought.” An event like this involves a lot of emotion and nostalgia. I never had regrets like ‘Oh, I wish I had played in this era,’ but I do enjoy the spectacle. “It has the buzz and the passion,” he concluded.