Omar Henry – A man for the ages
If you attend the opening day of the 2023 Over-50s World Cup on March 6, you will notice a familiar face pacing his way around the fields in Cape Town.
At first you’ll think your mind is playing tricks on you - you’ll recognise the man as former South African cricket Omar Henry, but bizarrely he looks younger and fitter than you might remember.
Henry, as you might recall, was the first player of colour to represent the country after the sporting isolation ended in 1992. He did so at the tender age of 40 years and 295 days, playing three Tests against India and also making his way to the 1992 World Cup, where he played one match against Sri Lanka.
He is most certainly a man who did things differently than most. In his mid-20s, during the height of Apartheid, he left his family home to play cricket in Scotland and became a cult hero, scoring over 14 000 runs and 29 centuries in 13 seasons with various clubs, and then winning 62 caps for the country itself.
Last year, at the age of 70, Henry represented the South African team at the Over-60s World Cup in Australia, bowling nine overs on the trot in the first game against New Zealand, despite “doing my hammy” in the first over.
Now, at the Over-50s World Cup, which will again be sponsored by Evergreen Lifestyle, he will serve as an tournament ambassador. And Henry knows a thing or two about playing cricket at 50 … he was still playing top level club cricket in the Winelands at that age!
“I was very fortunate in that when I retired from professional cricket, I went into coaching at Stellenbosch University and I carried on playing club cricket,” he says. “I carried on playing club cricket until I was 50, so I had that period between 35-50 of extending my playing days, where others might not. But if there was organised veterans cricket [in my days], I don’t think I would have ever stopped!”
Just how Henry would have crammed any more achievements into his bursting-at-the-seams CV is food for thought, but the fact that he remains involved in cricket at so many levels at the age of 71 is both a testament to the man, and hardly surprising.
Rather than highlight the obvious – making his South African debut or bowling Free State to an unlikely first-ever Currie Cup triumph in 1992 – Henry’s favourite memories are the lessons he learnt from various teammates throughout his more than three decades of playing the game.
“The biggest thing for me was that almost every first-class team I played for was successful,” he says. “That was phenomenal, a fantastic experience.
“But there were common denominators in how these teams operated, how they communicated, how they gelled, and the different approaches on how to win.
“At the same time, 99% of the clubs I played for were successful. That was another great experience, but on an amateur level.
“It gave me a lot of insight on people, on myself, how to be successful as a group, how to create an environment that is positive, that’s innovative, and where people can enjoy themselves. That stood me in good stead, and they are life lessons that will stay with me forever.”