Henry Olonga the widely talented Zimbabwe test cricketer with a story to tell that echoes well beyond the boundaries of any sports ground is coming to West Swindon on 2 December to talk about cricket and the situation in his home country.
Questions to him have been penned by local people from different areas of interest and cricket clubs in the area have been invited to nominate a young player for a Henry Olonga Bowling Award.
Olonga himself realised many achievements. If you follow cricket you’ll know a few. If you never have – you may remember him for his bravery as a sportsman who impacted the world well beyond his chosen game. Being the first black Zimbabwean Test Cricketer, at only 18 the youngest, a debut in the first Zimbabwean team to win a Test Match, and holder of the best bowling figures to date in any international match staged in South Africa – these are just some of the cricketing feats.
The latter brought him well and truly to the notice of most England cricket supporters – taking 6 for 19 against Nasser Hussain’s much touted team. But despite an array of cricketing records Henry Olonga is probably best remembered for his concern over the treatment of his fellow countrymen and his stand against the powers that denied them their rights.
Most news watchers in 2003 were aware of the clamour over whether international teams should play or boycottt the Cricket World Cup to be played in Zimbabwe and South Africa. In the end most went. It seemed a coup for Robert Mugabe’s regime – until Henry Olonga, helped by captain and now England Coach, Andy Flower, entered the field wearing black arm bands – releasing a press statement mourning the death of democracy in Zimbabwe.
The crowd on the ground took up the theme in front of the cameras. The Mugabe government were infuriated by the unprecedented actions of their former sporting torch bearer, but this defiance was only allowed to happen because the world’s press was watching. In a few days they would all be gone when the media circus returned to South Africa for the final stages of the competition. Olonga would be left behind at the mercy of embarrassed politicians in a totalitarian state set on revenge. His only means of escape seemed to be part of the World Cup entourage moving on to Johannesburg.
But to do that it seemed humble Zimbabwe had to beat mighty Pakistan – then amongst the best one-day teams in the world. In the event, a slender nerve jangling opportunity arose – it rained all day for the crucial match. Zimbabwe and Pakistan shared the points and Zimbabwe went through to the final rounds.
But why, when the world still recoils from the horrors of 21st Century Zimbabwe did this talented well educated sportsman with an international career stretching in front of him, sacrifice it all and put his life on the line to venture where angels have feared to tread? You now have opportunity to meet the man at the centre of the storm and hear his story first hand.
Swindon United Churches Cricket Club host an evening with Henry Olonga on Friday 2 December.
Henry Blofeld, Guardian Cricket Correspondent and Test Match Special commentator writes on meeting him: ‘I immediately found that Olonga was not only a man of great and unwavering principle but also someone with a splendid sense of humour.’
Now you can enjoy a rare opportunity to meet the man who bravely stood on the world stage at a critical moment challenging a seemingly untouchable regime, at The Gateway Church Trinity Centre, Stonehill Green, Westlea, off Mead Way (SN5 7AR).
Tickets are pitched at a modest price – £5.50 in advance, (£6.50 on the door) – available by phone on 770331, 700618, or 07788 437526, or over the counter at the El Toro Restaurant on Devizes Road, Old Town, Earles Newsagent, 35 Newport Street, Old Town or at Gateway Church during office hours.