From cricketer to singer: Henry Olonga opens up on his ‘second innings’

The former Zimbabwe fast bowler walks down memory lane and narrates his story of becoming a singer.

New avatar: Henry Olonga 'dabbled' in a bit of music since settling in Australia, and before long found himself in a 'blind' auction of The Voice, a TV show. Photo: Special Arrangement

Henry Olonga, once known for his heroics with the cricket ball in hand, is now commanding attention with a mike in its place. The former Zimbabwe fast bowler delighted fans and former teammates with his rendition of Anthony Warlow’s ‘This is the moment’ on The Voiceon Channel 9 in Australia.

“This is my second innings,” Olonga told Sportstar from his home in Adelaide, where he moved to in 2015.

An invite

Olonga had attended a concert by a police band at Adelaide’s iconic Town Hall. “Once in a while they have guest performers and they called me to sing at one of those events. It was a fundraiser, a charity event. I performed there,” he said.

A few weeks later, Olonga received an invitation from The Voice via email. “Someone had seen my performance at the Town Hall and just wanted to know if I would be going for The Voiceauditions. Initially I was somewhat reluctant because I had led a quiet life after cricket. I haven’t gone into coaching or commentary or anything like that. When I thought about it a little more and spoke to my wife and friends, they said: ‘Ah, it’s a good opportunity,’” the 42-year-old said.

Olonga submitted his application and went through the qualifying process, eventually reaching the blind auditions. “That’s what everyone saw,” he said.

Before and after cricket

A young Olonga was interested in the stage and regularly acted in plays in high school. But that ended when cricket became his life. In 1995, he was picked for the Zimbabwe national team and became a regular by 1998. His career came to a premature end when he and Andy Flower donned black armbands during the 2003 World Cup to protest what they perceived as the “death of democracy” in Zimbabwe.

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After a warrant for his arrest and death threats, Olonga went into exile in England, having represented Zimbabwe in 30 Test matches and 50 One-Day Internationals.

“I retired in 2003 and then it took many years for me to decide what I want to do with my life. We started a family. I used to travel a lot in England, talking at various places, talking in schools, cricket clubs, and then at the end of the session there would be one or two songs,” he said.

Henry Olonga played 30 Tests and 50 ODIs for Zimbabwe in an eight-year international career. Photo: V. V. Krishnan

Once in Australia, Olonga’s wife went back to work and he became a stay-at-home dad who dabbled in a bit of music.

Cricket vs the stage

Olonga references a game against India to compare performing on the ground and on the stage. More specifically, his bowling to Sachin Tendulkar.

“If I was playing cricket in India, in a stadium there would be 60,000 Indian fans. Not one of them would be supporting us. They would support the Indian team and Sachin. They would want him to slash me all over the place,” he says. “If you are performing as an artist, everyone invests in you to do well. They understand.”

Olonga adds: “You are performing in front of a small crowd in the studio, which is far smaller than a cricket stadium. The noise, atmosphere, buzz is different. There is a different pressure.”

Cricket hasn’t completely disappeared from Olonga’s life, however. “I am enjoying my new life in singing. But I will watch the World Cup. It’s going to be exciting.”