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Zimbabwe Cricketers – Henry Olonga
Some players make more of a sign than they do. This was certainly the case with former Zimbabwean player Henry Olonga. The first black cricketer to play for Zimbabwe had more than just an interesting hairstyle. He had character and raw talent that was untapped at the highest level. Olonga was a willing and able bowler, although he was quick and inaccurate. Furthermore, he encouraged black cricketers in Zimbabwe before political instability destroyed his cricket.
Born in Lusaka, Zimbabwe on July 3, 1976, Olonga became the youngest player to represent Zimbabwe when he played for the national team against Pakistan in Harare in 1995. ‘ in his first Test. Olonga also suffered injuries during his playing career but remained in Zimbabwe until his career ended due to not playing cricket in 2003.
Olonga’s scores were average and international standards. However, he was playing for the weakest Test team in the world. From 30 Test matches- spread over seven years-, Olonga took 68 wickets at a high average of 38.52. His bowling in test matches was respectable and he showed his destructive ability with excellent test figures of 5/70 against India in Harare in 1998.
In the ODIs, Olonga was useful, though expensive. From 50 ODIs, he took 58 wickets at an average of 34.08. Although Olonga stunned England in an ODI in Cape Town in 2000 with excellent figures of 6/19, his best moment was against India in the 1999 ICC World Cup in England. Zimbabwe captain Alistair Campbell gave Olonga the final toss. It was encouraging as Olonga took three wickets to bowl India out for 249 runs. Zimbabwe won by just three runs and progressed to the next round on the back of the win.
Henry Olonga knew how to overcome adversity, as shown by his improved bowling practices and his fight against injuries. However, he will also be remembered for his actions during times of trouble. At the start of the 2003 ICC international tournament in South Africa, Olonga joined his teammate Andy Flower in protesting the ‘death of democracy’ in Zimbabwe. He wore black wristbands and caused a stir. The show brought down Olonga’s international cricket career. He also had to flee to England, where he built his house, after failing to return home safely after the World Cup.
Olonga played first class cricket only in Zimbabwe. His record of 156 wickets in 66 matches is unimpressive. However, Olonga made his mark as the first black footballer in his country and the last – at the time he played. Always an amiable gentleman, Olonga was also a political and social activist. His opposition to Andy Flower (who was white) was particularly surprising as he was a black Zimbabwean cricketer opposing Robert Mugabe’s ‘anti-white’ policies.
Since his stay in England, Olonga started cricket commentary on television. His voice and appearance both outside and outside reflect his joy and positive way of life. As a cricketer, Olonga may not have done much. However, he helped others greatly with his determination, positive outlook and faith. Olonga is a true role model and one of the greatest figures in the game – even before his playing days.
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