Portrait by Robin Hammond
Roy Jones wore glasses and looked like your archetypal computer geek. He was an exceptionally humble man, which made him special
Plumtree high in Zimbabwe was a government-run school, but it was like a typical traditional English public boarding school with a huge bias towards sport. It was a place that students returned to as teachers.
Roy Jones was a computer teacher, cricket coach for the first team and an old boy of the school. He played a huge role in my venturing into international cricket. I had my eye trained on a career in athletics, but then my coach left. He had mentored me for four years, but was transferred to another school. Suddenly, my focus changed.
In my last year of high school, I got an ankle injury that prevented me from throwing the javelin (I also ran the 100 and 200 metres) and I had to pull out of the rugby season, as well. So I focused on cricket.
Having taken time off because of injury, I was fresh and ready to go for cricket. I turned in some good performances and one day Roy Jones sat me down for about 30 minutes and said, "Do you realise that you could play international cricket?" For a schoolboy aged 18, it was quite a thing to be told that. It had never crossed my mind until then.
Roy wore glasses and looked like your archetypal computer geek. He was an exceptionally humble man, which made him special; placid and easy to talk to. He was a decent cricketer, but his off-spinners never turned.
I was team captain, so as he drove me into town to play matches we would talk strategy, line-ups and field placements.
I last saw Roy Jones when I was in England in 2003. We did an interview together for a TV station and hit it off as old mates. I think he was disappointed that I didn't go on to have a full international career, but I suspect that he would have been quite pleased that I took a principled stance when I retired from the national cricket team on the basis that I was mourning the death of democracy in Zimbabwe. He loved Zimbabwe and he understood what I was standing up against. He texts me once in a while and I text him back.
I don't think I was as successful as I would have liked to have been. I don't think I would have chosen cricket as my career path if Roy hadn't had come along. I probably would have chosen music.
Felix Westwood, the music teacher at Plumtree high, was also the dragon of the school. At the time of my leaving, I think she'd been there for about 35 years; that was 10 years ago. She retired recently. Everyone was afraid of her because she had so much authority. You didn't mess her around. She was a singer with a pair of lungs on her, and when you annoyed her, she screamed. I never got on her wrong side. She wasn't an angry person; it was just that if things didn't go her way, she'd let you know about it. She didn't take any nonsense from anyone, but was exceptionally well respected in the school.
She produced the annual school plays with her husband and also played the piano and the organ in church. I'd been involved in a production in my junior school and I loved singing in it. When I was 14 she gave me the principal role in The Gondoliers, by Gilbert and Sullivan. I was the only boy who could hit the top notes; for a young black boy of 14, it was virtually unheard of. Principal roles usually went to boys in the higher age groups.
After my stage debut, she took me under her wing and encouraged me to perform certain songs. She would get me gigs and get me to sing at weddings. If ever there was a chance to sing, she would ask me and I would go for it. She never took me for singing lessons but, during rehearsals of songs, she would say "do this or that to your throat". She would give me hints here and there.
I continued to pursue my music while playing international cricket, as we had a lot of time off. I'm now embarking on a singing career and I've been working on material in the studio.
Cricketer and musician Henry Olonga was talkingto Sheryl Sims
THE STORY SO FAR
1976 Born Lusaka, Zambia
1981 Family emigrates to Zimbabwe
1981-89 Attends four primary schools including Rhodes Estate preparatory
1989-95 Plumtree high school, Bulawayo
1994 Makes debut for provincial cricket team, Matabeleland
1995 Becomes first black player and youngest of any colour to represent Zimbabwe national cricket team
2000 Takes six wickets for 19 runs in one-day match against England
2003 Retires from international cricket after wearing a black armband during World Cup as a protest against Zimbabwe government
2005-06 Plays for English celebrity club Lashings and embarks on singing career
August 2006 New CD released (www.henryolonga.net)