FORMER Zimbabwean Test cricketer Henry Olonga made his debut at the famed Sydney Cricket Ground (SCG) recently, but not in the way you might have imagined.
His first appearance at the SCG was not as a fast bowler, but as an opera singer performing Nessun Dorma at a charity dinner.
Olonga was the first black cricketer to play for Zimbabwe and is now an accomplished singer, but he is perhaps best known for the courageous political stance he took 13 years ago.
When Zimbabwe played its first game of the 2003 Cricket World Cup, Olonga and his team mate Andy Flower wore black armbands to mourn the death of democracy under Robert Mugabe.
While Flower was about to retire from international cricket, Olonga was just 26 and in the prime of his career.
The fast bowler paid the price for his principles. Soon after he was forced off the national team and had to go into exile after receiving death threats. He has never returned to Zimbabwe.
Last month, Olonga and his Australian wife Tara moved to Adelaide with their two children, giving Olonga the chance to perform at the SCG for the first time.
Singing is not a new passion for him.
“I started as a soloist at the age of 13 when I was cast as a girl for a play called Oklahoma,” he says laughing.
“I need to explain this; I went to a boys only school and they’ve got to find the girl somewhere. So I started off as a girl in Oklahoma.
“The next year I was in The Gondoliers. I was given the principal part as Marco.
“It was also the same year I watched the Three Tenors perform in the World Cup in Italy. I just fell in love with the idea of singing like them.”
Olonga played 30 Tests and 50 one-dayers for Zimbabwe, but he is best remembered for his protest at the World Cup.
He and Andy Flower not only wore black armbands during the match, they also released a 450-word statement slamming the Mugabe regime, exposing the torture, false imprisonment and starvation that had occurred under his leadership.
“I got to the point where I felt like I needed to speak out against some of the things that had happened,” Olonga recalled.
“There’s a long list, there’s human rights abuses, rigged elections, there’s opposition members being put in prison or beaten up, and myself and Andy Flower effectively wanted to protest against a lot of those things.”Advertisement
None of the other players in Zimbabwe’s World Cup squad were in the
know about Henry Olonga and Andy Flower’s protest