Cricket legend Omar Henry returns to Micklehurst
Wednesday 9th August 2017 @ 15:44 by Tom Greggan
Mossley & Saddleworth Sports Tameside

Saturday was a special day for those connected to Micklehurst CC. Despite the second team falling to a heavy home defeat to Austerlands, club legend Omar Henry returned to the club for the first time since 1992 , to meet up with old friends and share memories of the two years he spent there in the late 1970s.

Omar, in Manchester for the fourth test match between England and South Africa, is perhaps most famous for becoming the first non-white cricketer to play for South Africa post-Apartheid. He also played 62 times for Scotland and went on to become Chairman of the South African selectors but in this part of the world, it’s his club-record 243* in the Tanner Cup semi-final at Richmond Hill that he is remembered for.

Omar told the Tameside Reporter that it’s an achievement he remembers fondly. “When it happened it was a great achievement,” he said. “It was in a season that I think everything just came right. The club was playing good cricket and we won the league so it was meaningful.”

It’s clear to see that Micklehurst hold a special place in Omar’s heart. In his book ‘The Man in the Middle,’ he dubbed them ‘The Cream of the Pennines’ and contacted the club to ask if he could visit while he was in Manchester. Micklehurst were all to happy to oblige and from the minute Omar stepped through the gate, a smile never left his face.

He said: “It seems like yesterday I was still playing here. The faces look exactly the same as I left them.” But Omar says the stand-out memory of his time there isn’t that double century, but rather the people. “To talk about them even today speaks volumes for their character and what they meant to me when I came here the very first time. Also what we achieved together in that short space of time. They are lasting memories.”

Attention turns to November 13th 1992 when, against India in Durban, Omar became the first non-white cricketer to appear for South Africa in the post-Apartheid era. He had unofficially appeared for South Africa during the rebel tours of the 1980s, somewhat controversially, at a time when the national team was banned due to the country’s politics, but this was the first time he officially represented his country.

Speaking about his debut, Omar said: “To play test cricket for my country was never in my mind because of the politics. All I ever wanted to do was play professional cricket. But when the opportunity came, I was probably playing the best cricket of my life and I thought, ‘Why not give it a go?’

“It was important that somebody from the under-privileged had to make a statement. I thought I’d played enough good cricket to be able to be selected and fortunately for me that happened.

He continued: “I knew there was a lot of focus on me in terms of being the first player but like I said, I’d played enough cricket then to know I was good enough to be there and I just had to believe in that. There was also going to be a huge responsibility because I knew I was going to represent a large amount of people and they were going to have a good look at me in terms of my performance and how I played.”

Aged 40 at the time, and in a shortened test match, Omar scored just 3 runs in his first innings but ended with a respectable bowling score of 2-56 off 19.1 overs.

Despite being at the centre of such a momentous occasion, Omar struggles to pick the moment in his career that he is most proud of. “I can possibly say all of them,” he said. “For me, my goal was to play professional cricket. That was what I wanted and I’m glad I did that. The amount of people that I met and friends that I made was awesome. The game, and what I achieved after that was a bonus and I really appreciate that. Ultimately, the friends that I have made goes beyond what I achieved in cricket.”