By Sham Ali (Cosmos)
Nathan Henderson, a cheerful, unwavering, man crammed many a contrasting lives into his 70 years, died on February 7, 2021 in New York. His long record of service to cricket gave him an identity and ultimately a deserving recognition in the New York Region, notably the Metropolitan Cricket League (MCL), as a dedicated servant of a game and the one of the most familiar face in the cricket fraternity has departed from the sporting scene.
His presence at the cricket fields was visible from a distance; it exhumed a sense of comfortably that the surroundings will be in order as he greeted everyone with a warm smile. The sudden news of Nathan Henderson’s death came as a shock. Shocked; a word tossed around with thoughtless abandon these days, but the life of Nathan Henderson is one that fully justifies such a description. One of the few zealous caretakers of the game, consistent and particular, strong-headed but forgiving. Behind it all laid a tormented soul, one that was eternally restless if he was not at a cricket ground; that is the irrevocable union which fused cricketers and its servants with the game, one that has defined them and a pursuit that has consumed the construct of their lives with prose and purpose, from their early years.
His presence at the cricket ground was not a convenient of a ride to the park, instead, he was proud and independent, and he took public transportation. His feet had wheels. He was the first at the park to wake up the birds and the flock of ducks lifted their heads high in his direction as if they knew him by his first name. He prepared the wicket, laid the matting; 30-yards marked, boundary flags up, clipped the field, and ensured that everything was in order, even before some cricketers alarms went off. He kept Floyd Bennett cricket field (when it was Cosmos’s home ground), from the inception, in pristine condition for many years. It was his baby and he took great pride and joy in maintaining a well-manicured outfield.
It hosted the MCL championships games, the New York XI vs West Indies, the Indo Caribbean Federation match, to name a few. Nathan was the last to leave after he was fully satisfied that the park was clean and everything was secured. Tired but satisfied, exhausted but managed a smile, while still picking up the occasional bits and pieces on his way out. He was the hands at all the other venues for the ‘big’ games. Few would bear the burden, in an exaggerated ‘prim and proper’ environment, of the perceived indignity to clean up after cricketers in these parts.
Nathan did not allow his life’s struggles to burden his heart, instead, it grew larger and softer and he absorbed his struggles with contentment. And for all the indignities he may have encountered, while putting his shoulders to the wheel, it never masks his method nor tempered his mind. Instead, his arms were wide open (sometimes too open) and accommodating lending freely of his generosity to his comrades at their times of dire need, and with good conscience he took his colleagues to the hospital, when all others were ‘very busy’. Like he did for the late Roy Sweeney, Carl Patrick and Hugh Pitter, (boy they must be planning their moves up there).
His kindheartedness was not merely surface charm; it ran deep within his structure. If ever he uttered anything on the matter, it was done with an ingrained sense of modesty ‘I took care of him, it arite.’ That was Nats. It was in his DNA to help to heal the wounds of others, and he did so with that invaluable price of compassion carved in a quiet chamber of his heart. It embodied the true spirit of comradeship from a man with less, but who gave greater than himself to others while leaving himself without. But at his time of need, he found the outstretched hands of a higher power and it protected him comfortably and peacefully from all pains. Mascelles Bailey (Fmr. MCL President) and Shadi Khan said of him ‘Nathan was a man with a good heart. ‘
Nathan walked with a slight limp, it was not his swagger, oh, he had that too, trust me, but an injury sustained while plying his trade as an auto mechanic. He forged ahead, despite his wobbly knee, at times painfully, at times in need, but always willingly. He once endured the uncultured tongue and was derided simply because he defended his club for what was right. And at times, he was frowned at just because he picked up a few beer bottles to put into the trash which was left on the stands; he was brilliant for it in that moment which revealed some and tested others. Humility led him through the trenches as much as courage propelled him over hills on a wobbly knee; the twin tales ingrained under the skin of a man with a lion’s heart and bright willing eyes.
One would be privileged to see him in cricket uniform. His ability as a cricketer may not catch the avid eye, but it certainly spurred some conversations after the game. He bowled, what he called right arm medium leg spin. It was enough to cause a few bruised shins and headaches, just ask Melroy Kingston and Orlando Baker, during training at Gateway Park (Roy Sweeney Oval). It was one of the few times that Nathan would participate in the game. He tested his umpiring skills a match in 1997 at Heckshire State Park between Cosmos and Excelsior. Let’s say that after his first decision standing at square leg, he decided that he would occupy the position for the rest of the match with his pen in his shirt pocket and his hands comfortably placed in his trousers pocket. But if you need an umpire, he is ready, a scorer, he is ready, a cook, he is ready, a pen, he has one in his pocket. He was never one of those who sit and watch.
Nathan Henderson was a long standing member of Cosmos and a good one at that, and he will be remembered as was one of the most dedicated members of the club. He had an excellent friendship with our Captain, Ashmul Ali, with whom he seek counsel and held in high regard. If ever his team is short, he is ready; he always had his whites in his bag and extra. He knew how to quell the tension especially if it was a big match. He would put on his uniform and walked up to the captain ‘skipper I am ready’ On one occasion in a semi-final, Nathan got into his uniform, and the captain announced, with a serious face, that Nathan would be playing today. Nathan started to sweat, and hurriedly stuttered ‘no skip let the other guys play’ that instantly became good humor. He was given the opportunity to deliver the invocation at Cosmos Presentation in 2009. He did so with care and excitement, class and compassion with a powerful rendition of the good book. He genuinely appreciated the offer.
He never failed to deliver on his word; a true measure of his character. It was only last September in our final match, in a 5-match series at Idlewild Park that he was there to ‘cook up a storm’ for the boys organized by his friends Shadi Khan and George Andrews. He was encouraged to see the young players, and made sure that everything was in order, and tucked away before he left. His stewardship will always remain at the helm and Cosmos felt privileged to have had him in their family. Hard work, engraved in his name, was driven by the desire to give a full expression of himself, and he did it not with a bat or ball, but as a dignified and purposeful custodian of the club. A little short fused at times when some gets in his way, and he will let you ‘have a good dose of it’, but for someone who was not an active player, his was a thankless display of love for the game. His shortcomings were a mere figment unnoticed in the greater good of a man with a big heart.
And now that this chapter is closed for a man who usually saw the first ray of sunshine at the cricket ground is now enjoying his life is beyond the clouds. Tributes will pour in, and fade fast as a new page is turned in a sport where, for all its worthy endeavors, the most glowing terms are usually reserved for the very talented who have played the game at the highest level. Such recognition, though not misplaced, is at all times incomplete because not nearly enough attention and recognition is directed to those at the grassroots; the custodians, the shakers and movers, the work of many who have contributed enormously and gave of themselves unselfishly for decades, and in whose hearts the soul of the game is given life.
But it will not matter, Nathan did his duty well and diligently, with a smile, and a good heart, for everyone else to enjoy while he takes comfort with the Almighty. Nathan Henderson was one of those unobserved giants in the New York Cricket Region. Another like Nats will not grace these cricket fields again. Put a bet on that.
It was with that love, where many cricketers falter to deceive, Nathan runs deep. He was the ‘link’ man binding players to officials, parks to matting, refreshments to entertainment, in a manner to be envied. He was at the helm when the Metropolitan Cricket League was the premier league in the New York cricket world. Pride and differences in opinion have caused plenty of arguments and disagreements, but a good cricket wicket seldom does, and Nats ensured that that argument was settled in his favor.
He had an almost boy like enthusiasm for cricket and a completely non-envious admiration for its performers; his was the blend of romanticism, relish and sheer delight. He makes sure he fulfills his duties and obligations without drawing attention to himself or making a fuss. The players will miss a friend and officials will be saddened by the absence of a colleague, but few were prepared for the end that came so suddenly, at a time when he was planning a return to the cricket scene after Covid canceled the 2020 season.
His battle with sudden illness leant his features an eerie plasticity. His face, which once had a stony grandeur, began to show signs of fragility, but his bullish persona tried to deny it, while that echo in his voice began to fade. But quite visibly, an illustrious journey for Nathan was nearing the end. He was tired and frail, and that ‘heart’ of his and his unwavering passion for the game began to relent virtually unfamiliar from the sturdy, gregarious character he had been for most of his eventful life. His mind collides with his thoughts in an imaginative world still wondering who will prepare the ground, as he tried to draw breath. That confident gentleman, a consequential man, with his pen in pocket and a well nurtured waistline, who prepare a good track, became an unceremonious number of Covid casualties.
To me and many of my peers, Mascelles Bailey, Venelda Wallace, Trevor Wallfal who have served the MCL over the years, there is little doubt that Nathan was one of the Metropolitan Cricket League’s true loyalists; a man of many parts, an unwavering character, a ‘different’ cricketer and an dutiful official of rare quality. There is something spiritual about his work, as if an attempt was made to draw a line under all that had gone before, but that another force remained to deny it. We shall never know, but behind that infectious smile hid inner steel, removed his mask and put a good soul to rest. By being so spiritually aware of what lay beyond the physical world, he became an irresistible conscience for those of us left behind. The new generation ignores his craft and their duty at their peril.
I will miss him. We will miss him. The wisdom, the kindness, the child-like simplicity of his humor, the rants – yes the rants, his stubbornness, and how he frets about this and that, the hard but fair marking, the counsel given and taken, the shared love of so many things that stretch heart and mind. Above them all is friendship. His vision ensured that his fame was less dimmed in old age than that of his peers, some of whom without such a focus, faded from memory. He is survived by his beautiful family. Nats, who innocently hesitated to raise his finger, has now been given out. Snicko is a horizontal line. Really??? Nathan Henderson is gone! Laid to rest. Farewell to a Champion. Salute a Dear Friend.