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Let history record that when we saw injustice, tyranny and oppression we were brave enough to speak against them-lest our children and their children shame us for our cowardice. May the Lord bless Zimbabwe.

Henry Olonga 2003
The Man

Henry Olonga was born on July 3, 1976 in Lusaka, Zambia. He moved with his parents to Kenya, then moved and settled in Zimbabwe when he was still young. He was educated at Rhodes Estate Preparatory School, where he taught himself to bowl, then later on at Plumtree school, where he not only received proper coaching in his bowling, but also excelled as an athlete. By the time he completed school at age 19, he held 18 school athletic records, including a 10.6 second 100 metres record. He also excelled in singing, starring in many productions while at school.

Outside of his cricketing career (outlined further down), Olonga is a devout Christian. This from an article by John Ward for Cricinfo.com in May, 2001:

In 1992, Henry became a committed Christian at a youth camp at Marondera, and he names this as the most important experience of his life; he considers himself to be a Christian first and foremost and a cricketer second. His whole life is based around his faith in Christ, and he has found strength in Christ despite all the setbacks and disappointments of his career. He believes that ultimately God uses people to accomplish His Kingdom purposes, and that he has been placed in the cricket arena by God, who has called him as a Christian to be an ambassador of reconciliation between men and God.

Outside of cricket, he has set himself the mission of helping young people to develop values and morals, especially in Africa, where AIDS runs rampant. How recent events will change this mission we are yet to see.

The Cricketer

Henry Olonga made his cricketing debut in 1994/95 when Pakistan toured Zimbabwe. Not only was he the youngest cricketer to play for his country (he was 19 years, 212 days old), he was also the very first black cricketer to play for the national team. This was not lost on him.

It is part of my life experience and is very uplifting to see the fruit it has borne in the lives of other people, especially young kids

Put in as a first choice fast bowler, he served his country well, taking wickets consistently, even if he was a touch erratic. His early career was very stop/start, with injuries (with poor fitness as a result) hampering his efforts to land a permanent place in the Zimbabwe team, as well as being called for 'chucking'. This resulted in Olonga getting coaching from Dennis Lillie, one of the all time great fast bowlers.

The turning point of his career came during the 1999 World Cup against India. India were cruising along, needing only a few runs and still have 3 wickets in hand (i apologise to non cricketing countries who may feel a bit lost with this cricketing terminology). Olonga had bowled 3 terrible overs, his control and rhythm completely out. His captain, however, threw him the ball for the second to last over (later saying that he knew Olonga was the only man who could win the match for them). In a complete form turnaround, Olonga tore through the final 3 Indian wickets and Zimbabwe won the match by just 3 runs.

This secured him a permanent spot in the One day team, where he was normally expensive, but would occasionally put in an exceptional spell that would win the game. He proved this the very next season against England in Cape Town, tearing through the English batting order, taking a stunning 6 wickets for 19 runs. The season after the main bowling responsibility was thrust on him due to injuries to Heath Streak, their main frontline bowler. This resulted in Olonga suffering a stress fracture that forced him out the team.

The Controversy

Leading up the the 2003 Cricket World Cup, which was being hosted by South Africa and co-hosted by Zimbabwe and Kenya. there had been a lot of question marks hanging over weather teams scheduled to play in Zimbabwe would go ahead with their matches, due to the terrible conditions in the country at this present time. The biggest political controversy didn't however hit until the morning of Zimbabwe’s first match of the tournament.

Disregarding consequences and putting aside fear of death (the statement was viewed as treason, which is punishable by death), Andy Flower and Henry Olonga released a statement to the cricketing world:

It is impossible to ignore what is happening in Zimbabwe. Although we are just professional cricketers, we do have a conscience and feelings. We believe that if we remain silent that will be taken as a sign that either we do not care or we condone what is happening in Zimbabwe. We believe that it is important to stand up for what is right.

In all the circumstances we have decided that we will each wear a black armband for the duration of the World Cup. In doing so we are mourning the death of democracy in our beloved Zimbabwe. In doing so we are making a silent plea to those responsible to stop the abuse of human rights in Zimbabwe. In doing so we pray that our small action may help to restore sanity and dignity to our Nation.


Excerpt from the statement, follow link above for the full thing.

When the Zimbabwe team walked onto the field that day, Andy Flower and Henry Olonga could clearly be seen wearing black armbands in protest. While no action was taken during the match, immediately at the close of play, Olongas grade club, Takashinga, suspended him indefinitely, calling his act disgraceful. The ICC looked into the matter, laying charges of bringing the game into disrepute. These charges were thrown out by the ICC Technical committee. Olonga was also dropped for Zimbabwe’s next match.

Although warned by the Zimbabwe Cricket Union (of which rogue president Robert Mugabe is the patron) not to wear black armbands, Olonga and Flower emerged from the dressing rooms for their next match 8 days later once again wearing black wristbands that were pulled up to their forearms. 3 days later they were summoned to ZCU headquarters for a meeting with officials who claimed that all aspects had been covered. Olonga was completely dropped form the team for the next match, while Flower seemingly stopped his protest, arriving without any armbands.

After this match (on February 19), Olonga continued to train with the team but missed the next few matches, not being picked as a result of his protest. It was a surprise when, on March 15, Olonga walked out onto the field for their match against Sri Lanka. His performance wasn't the best, but that could be forgiven, as he had heard a rumour the night before that Zimbabwe Secret Police were being entertained in the teams’ hotel, and were also rumoured to be at the next days match.. Players helped him pack his gear that night. After the match ended, Olonga fled to an unnamed location in South Africa. He then announced his retirement from international cricket:

It is with great sadness that I am officially announcing my retirement from international cricket. My continued involvement with the Zimbabwean team has become untenable for the following reasons:
The stand I took earlier in the World Cup has undoubtedly had repercussions that have affected both my career and my personal life. I have received threatening emails, which, I believe, make it dangerous for me to return to Zimbabwe.

I was never under the illusion that my stand would have no consequences, but I believe that one should have the courage of one's convictions in life and do all one can to uphold them.

I believe that if I were to continue to play for Zimbabwe in the midst of the prevailing crisis, I would only be neglecting the voice of my conscience.

I would be condoning the grotesque human rights violations that have been perpetrated against my fellow countrymen.

To my fellow Zimbabweans: The Zimbabwe we dream of must merely remain in our hearts. We must be strong, stand united and strive to give our children the brighter day in which they belong.

Currently, Henry Olonga is still in hiding, seeking asylum in a safe country, rumoured to be England. With cricket no longer a short term option, he is looking to continue his singing career. He is currently in negotiation with a publisher to publish/distribute his upcoming album. A song, released onto CD for his church, entitled Our Zimbabwe, can be downloaded at http://www.henryolonga.com/the_singer%20Archived.htm

The Statistics

For the statistical minded, here are Olongas career stats (for those unfamiliar, the abbreviations are pipedlinked with their full name):

TESTS
 (including 16/11/2002)
                      M    I  NO  Runs   HS     Ave     SR 100  50   Ct  St
Batting & Fielding   30   45  11   184   24    5.41  23.49   0   0   10   0

                      O      M     R    W    Ave   BBI    5  10    SR  Econ
Bowling             750.2  129  2620   68  38.52  5-70    2   0  66.2  3.49

ONE-DAY INTERNATIONALS
 (including 12/03/2003)
                      M    I  NO  Runs   HS     Ave     SR 100  50   Ct  St
Batting & Fielding   50   27  14    95   31    7.30  58.28   0   0   13   0

                      O      M     R    W    Ave   BBI    5  10    SR  Econ
Bowling             343.1   13  1977   58  34.08  6-19    2   2  35.5  5.76
Sources:
  • http://www.henryolonga.com/ - Official Homepage
  • http://www.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2000/MAY/033072_ET_14MAY2000.html - News Story
  • http://www-usa.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2003/FEB/137447_ET_11FEB2003.html - News Story
  • http://www-usa.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2003/FEB/143350_BLOOMBERG_19FEB2003.html - News Story
  • http://www-usa.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2003/FEB/145951_REUTERS_22FEB2003.html - News Story
  • http://www-usa.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2003/FEB/146260_REUTERS_24FEB2003.html - News Story
  • http://www-usa.cricket.org/link_to_database/ARCHIVE/CRICKET_NEWS/2003/MAR/159552_REUTERS_19MAR2003.html - News Story
  • http://www.cricket.org/link_to_database/PLAYERS/ZIM/O/OLONGA_HK_09002181/ - Cricket Profile
  • http://www.rediff.com/wc2003/2003/mar/16olonga.htm - Retirement statement

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