Omar Henry

'I was very much against quotas'

The first coloured cricketer to represent South Africa looks back on making his debut at 40, the country's cricket history and the need for more Ntinis

Interview by Andrew McGlashan

"My only ambition was to play cricket for a career" © Getty Images

The idea of representing my country was almost non-existent. At the time I was in my 20s and it was almost impossible to think I would ever play.

When I wrote my book I made it quite clear that the bowling aspect in South Africa will come from mainly the non-white contingent and the Afrikaans contingent. I also said the batsmen would come from the coloured community and the Indian community, and that's basically our history.

When the time came there was no regret at not having had more chances to play. It was more an achievement of the impossible.

We have maintained a high standard and been competitive for the last 17 years. The national team has really achieved a lot in a short space of time, but I firmly believe there is an enormous amount to be done and it will take a while.

The fact that I was privileged and fortunate to be the first coloured cricketer [to play for South Africa] was greater than anything else. And the fact that the future generation would have a better life was even more encouraging.

We have a very interesting cricket history. We are a big country. Our cricket culture showed up in pockets: the Eastern Cape, the Western Cape, Kwa-Zulu Natal, Kimberley, and then Gauteng in the north. Cricket, in a lot of areas, is well over 100 years old and we should really focus on that to strengthen our base.

When I started to play cricket, knowing the situation we were in, my only ambition was to play cricket for a career.

Looking through South Africa's history from Basil D'Oliveira to Omar Henry and to Makhaya Ntini, I think it shows the progress that has been made in that time.

I was hoping I would see an integrated South African side, so in that respect, for me to have played and to see that has been a fantastic experience. Everyone wanted it so badly and so quickly.

Personally I was very much against quotas, but I can understand why others insisted upon them. I feel that to a certain extent it was the right thing to do, but having said that, we could have implemented it better and maybe differently.

We've certainly made progress. Makhaya Ntini is a perfect example. But as with anything, for an action there is a reaction, and there could have been a few more Makhaya Ntinis if things had been handled differently.

Justin Ontong and Jacques Rudolph will probably be victims of the system, and that's unfortunate. Their talents aren't on the park any more.

I feel sometimes we don't value ourselves enough within world cricket and the role we play.

When you start something there are going to be problems.

There are pockets in the country where cricket is non-existent and we have to go in there. That's a long-term role. It will take patience and we can make cricket a truly national sport.

We have to look back and learn as we move forward. The last decade has been phenomenal, a fantastic journey.

The world has certainly enjoyed the presence of South Africa in the international fold. Look at the ICC, with Haroon Lorgat, Dave Richardson, Vince van der Bijl in key jobs. It tells you what this country can offer, and I firmly believe we have only touched the surface.

Andrew McGlashan is assistant editor of Cricinfo





  • POSTED BY grace on | May 19, 2010, 12:14 GMT

    A few may have defected to England for quota reasons, but most of 'em left for economic reasons. English county cricketers make more money than their SA counterparts. Also there is the added bonus of playing test cricket because qualification to become an English player is easier(4 years of residency, i think). Trott, Kieswetter have taken this route. KP is the only one who has voiced his discontent about the quota system. How fair is the quota system? It's anybody's guess.Does it still exist? Shouldn't. At least at the highest level.

  • POSTED BY Sunil on | May 17, 2010, 19:01 GMT

    we all know how zimbabwe turned out after they adopted the all colored, all back policy - they had class players like flowers, houghtons, streaks - all who ran away.

  • POSTED BY Sunil on | May 17, 2010, 18:57 GMT

    duh...did it occur to u that their parents made up their minds for them?

  • POSTED BY Craig on | May 17, 2010, 5:51 GMT

    Popcorn would do well to remember that passenger Gibbs' 175 in the 438 game. Or Makhaya's performances against England, and indeed all around the world over the course of a distinguished career. How about that passenger Duminy's performance in that famous test series against Australia? Or Amla's recent heroics against India and his performances in England? Kieswetter has had an excellent start to his career for England, but it is early days. Pietersen on the other hand is indeed the genuine article, and would easily make it into any international side. I say that if they feel little enough about the land of their birth to don the colours of the opposition and play against SA, we are better off without them.

  • POSTED BY Chris on | May 17, 2010, 3:06 GMT

    YoBro, I've got this picture of a 2-year old Andrew Strauss saying to his parents: "Hey Mom and Dad, I'm really disillusioned with SA let's leave."

  • POSTED BY Sunil on | May 17, 2010, 0:35 GMT

    @popcorn is on the money. It is the other message-posters that are livin' on kool-aid. The names he mentioned left at young ages, yes. Why do you think they defected so early? Because they knew what the future of SA cricket had in store for them. Wise-up simple-minded folk.

  • POSTED BY Vijay on | May 16, 2010, 21:22 GMT

    the whole england t eam is basically from SA kieswetter, lumb, strauss, pieterson, prior, trott, robin smith and many more. Also England is also getting their talent from Ireland and some indians too.

  • POSTED BY Alexander on | May 16, 2010, 20:31 GMT

    popcorn is clearly disillusioned. naive remarks indeed!

  • POSTED BY Chris on | May 16, 2010, 19:18 GMT

    Pietersen and Kieswetter are the only real talents SA has lost to England in recent times. Strauss and Prior left long before anyone knew they would be good cricketers. Lumb's father is a former Yorkshire cricketer who came to SA to play and coach so to say SA lost his son is also incorrect - he was probably always England bound. Trott is a good player but never an obvious choice to be in the SA team. There were plenty of valid arguments for quotas in the early years but that time has passed and it seems to be less prevalent than before. When you cut to the chase most of cricketers leaving today are chasing the pound. Although given the UKs' economic predicament; that might not last too long.

  • POSTED BY Ricky on | May 16, 2010, 19:03 GMT

    popcorn are you serious? andrew strauss and matt prior left for england at young ages, they didnt leave because of quotas. Currently there are no "quota players" in the SA team , i think they all deserve their positions. Please point out these "passengers". When makhaya ntini was on bad form he was dropped, this clearly shows that quotas aren't present in SA cricket anymore.

  • POSTED BY Rajaram on | May 16, 2010, 13:13 GMT

    Cricket South Africa is downright stupid in its selection process.Instead of encouraging merit,they select on the basis of quotas. So they lost Kevin Pietersen,Jonathan Trott,Michael Lumb,Matt Prior,Andrew Strauss to England,who promptly took them in their national Team.I won't be surprised if Graeme Smith defects to England. How long will he carry passengers in the team given to him?

  • POSTED BY lucy on | May 16, 2010, 10:48 GMT

    The cricketer says something fantastically interesting like "bowling aspect in South Africa will come from mainly the non-white contingent and the Afrikaans contingent. I also said the batsmen would come from the coloured community and the Indian community" and the interviewer fails to ask followup questions on that? (Like about non-Afrikaner white Saffers and white batsmen, just for starters.) This guy is cool; I'll have to buy his book. And I also like the way he disses Sonn without having to name him.