Henry Olonga: 12 facts about the Zimbabwean speedster

Henry Olonga, born July 3, 1976, was the first black cricketer and the youngest-ever to represent Zimbabwe. When on song, he could bowl at brisk pace and troubled the best of batters. Suvajit Mustafi lists out 12 facts about the brave warrior, on and off the field, who had the guts to stand up against tyranny.

1.  Traumatic childhood

Olonga was born in Zambia to a Kenyan father and Zimbabwean mother. He spent his formative years in Zambia and then Kenya, before moving to Zimbabwe after it attained Independence. In his autobiography, Olongawrites that his parents separated when he was four, after his mother found out that his father had failed to mention a first marriage that included a dozen children. 

2.  Brother of Zimbabwean Rugby star, Victor Olonga

Olonga’s older brother Victor is a former Zimbabwean Rugby captain. During Olonga’s controversy during the Robert Mugabe regime, though Victor stood by his younger brother, but didn’t completely support his views.  Victor played rugby for Zimbabwe in between 1993 and 1998, and was widely regarded as Zimbabwe’s most naturally talented sportsperson of his era. Olonga’s uncle Francis Masakhalia is a former Kenyan minister.

3.  Aspired to represent Kenya in athlete at the Olympics

Olonga was a talented kid. He didn’t just excel in sports but also in creative arts. He was good at public speaking, drama, music and art. Early on, he aspired to be an athlete representing his father’s nation Kenya in Olympics. When he attended the Plumtree School, he became the head boy.

4.  Youngest and the first black cricketer for Zimbabwe

Olonga made his Test debut against Pakistan at Harare in January 1995. He was 18 years and 212 days when he got his debut cap, making him the youngest cricketer to represent Zimbabwe. He also went on to be the first black cricketer to represent the country. Though it was a happy outing for Zimbabwe who won their first-ever Test, it wasn’t for a young Olonga, who was…

5.  …No-balled for throwing

Though he picked the wicket of Pakistani opener Saeed Anwar in his first over in Test cricket, he was no-balled for throwing. Cricketing greats Dennis Lillee, Joel Garner and Clive Rice helped him remodel his action and make it legal. He returned to international cricket later that year and was a part of Zimbabwe side in the 1996 World Cup. 

6.  Star of Zimbabwe’s first overseas Test win

Three and half years after his forgettable debut against Pakistan, Olonga played the same opposition next at Peshawar. Olonga picked up four wickets in the second innings and his scalps included the likes of AamerSohail, AzharMahmood, Inzamam-ul-Haq and Saeed Anwar. Zimbabwe registered their first- ever Test win outside home and Olonga finished with six wickets in the match.

7.  Good outings against India

Against India in Sharjah, Olonga ripped through the Indian top order, claiming the wickets of SouravGanguly, Sachin Tendulkar, Rahul Dravid and Ajay Jadeja. Zimbabwe successfully defended the total of 205 and won by 13 runs. A month back, Zimbabwe had beaten India in a Test at Harare with Olonga claiming a fifer in the first innings. 

8.  Continues his honeymoon against India

It was a crucial encounter of the 1999 World Cup and India set a target of 253 from 46 overs needed only seven to win with three wickets in hand when Olonga came to bowl the 45th over. Olonga picked up the wickets of Robin Singh, JavagalSrinath and Venkatesh Prasad to give Zimbabwe a three-run win.

9.  Standing against President Robert Mugabe

In 2000-01 season, Zimbabwean President Robert Mugabe had charted out a pro-racism quota system for cricket selection. There had to be certain number of black players in the team. Andy Flower and Olonga decided to stand against it. Both wore black arm bands during the World Cup 2003 mourning the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. While many applauded his courage, he received brickbats from many in his community who believed in Mugabe’s policies.

10.  Arrest warrant and death threats


Olonga announced his retirement after the 2003 World Cup and went into hiding after an arrest warrant was issued against him on grounds of treason. There were chances that he could be sentenced to death. He moved to England after getting death threats.

11.  Music and filmmaking aspirations

After moving to London in 2003, Olonga showed a lot of interest in a career in music. He won the Channel Five’s The All Star Talent Show in 2006 for Operatic singing and he released an album titled Aurelia later that year. Olonga, a creative person, also loves getting behind the camera and aspires to be a director of a full length movie. A religious person, Olonga is into producing a lot of church related music.

12.  Married to Tara Reid and his big family

Olonga has two brothers and two sisters, and 10 half-brothers and sisters from his father’s previous marriage in Kenya. He married Tara Reid, an Australian physical education teacher in 2004.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sportsmarketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)