I wanted to leave the 1992 World Cup after an incident with Kepler Wessels, Omar Henry tells Cricket SA SJN
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JOHANNESBURG – Former South African international Omar Henry told Cricket SA’s Social Justice and Nation Building inquiry that he wanted to head home from the World Cup in 1992 over an “incident” in the dressing room with then South African captain, Kepler Wessels.
Henry did not go into detail about the “incident,” which occurred following South Africa’s group match against New Zealand in Auckland in 1992. “It was an unpleasant situation that had to be stopped by the manager,” Henry told the hearings.
Henry was the first black player to be selected for South Africa following the cricket’s unification in 1991 and made his debut in South Africa’s first home Test after isolation, against India in Durban when he was 40 years old. He was also selected for the country’s first appearance at a World Cup that took place earlier in 1992 in Australia and New Zealand.
Henry told the hearings, chaired by Adv. Dumisa Ntsebeza, that while he initially didn’t anticipate playing much at the tournament, given the composition of the South African team which was reliant on fast bowling and the conditions in the two host countries, which usually favoured fast bowling, upon seeing the New Zealand team’s early success, using spin bowling, he believed he should play more of a role. “I saw the pitches in New Zealand, and how they assisted spin. It was really disappointing when I didn’t play in that match against New Zealand (SA’s second at the tournament).”
“I spoke to the manager and he said he would talk to the captain and coach.”
New Zealand comfortably beat South Africa, who struggled against the Kiwis’ spinner Dipak Patel, while Peter Kirsten, a part-time spinner, bowled seven overs for the South Africans and claimed a wicket, which seemed to emphasise Henry’s point about spin being important in New Zealand at that time. At a subsequent team meeting, the “incident” with Wessels occurred.
“I spoke to the then UCB president, Krish Mackerdhuj, and told him about the incident and that my wife was pregnant at the time and I wanted to leave,”said Henry.
“(Mackerdhuj) pleaded with me to stay, he said I can’t go home because there were bigger issues at play. I was also of the view at that time that if I wanted to go, the same thing would have happened to other players of colour (in the future).”
“I decided to stay, I played against Sri Lanka, I thought I played well and I stayed true to the team and supported everyone else.”
“I thought that as the first black player, maybe that incident had to happen, it was bound to happen. I thought hopefully it would be addressed and we could move on. In hindsight I was wrong, and here we are today,” said Henry.
The SJN project was established last year after a call by Lungi Ngidi for the Proteas to show support for the Black Lives Matter movement, exposed an undercurrent of racism within South African cricket.
Henry spoke of his own troubled past, as a black player playing under the auspices of the SA Cricket Association, which oversaw cricket for the white population during the Apartheid years. “I signed to play for Green Point Cricket Club, then part of the SA Cricket Association. It was in 1976, at the time of the Soweto riots. My brother and sister were at college, fighting for democracy. It caused a lot of tension in our house and my parents had to manage that.”
Henry told the hearings that he saw his role as one that would attempt to unify the country and it only came to some sort of fruition at the time cricket was unified under the then UCB.
This week the SJN commission will hear from former Proteas players including, Aaron Phangiso, Thandi Tshabalala, Alviro Petersen and Lonwabo Tsotsobe.