Chris Barrett, Sports Writer
ON the Wikipedia entry for the Madeiran city of Funchal, there are 11 names listed under the heading ”Notable Citizens”. There is a former Catholic archbishop of Goa, a surrealist poet and a Eurovision contestant, to name a few. The last two, in no particular order, are Cristiano Ronaldo and Moises Constantino Henriques.
Australia’s tour of India might not be a water-cooler topic at Madrid’s Bernabeu Stadium, where the world’s second-best footballer makes his living, but the Australian all-rounder’s exploits are not going without recognition on the Portuguese island from where he and Ronaldo hail.
The round-ball game, not cricket, is the leading sport on Madeira, off the west coast of Morocco. Yet word of Henriques’s outstanding Test debut on the subcontinent will make its way to that part of the North Atlantic if his father has anything to do with it, no matter if no one there knows reverse-swing from a reverse-sweep.
Alvaro Henriques, a former professional footballer himself, is one of 13 children, most of whom and their families still live on the island. And he likes to talk about his son.
“I don’t know how much they know about the game, about the rules, but Dad is a very proud father so he keeps them updated and they’re always sending over their congrats,” says Henriques, who hopes to visit the place of his birth this year for the first time since his father and mother, Anabela, began a new life in Sydney 24 years ago. “I have still got a lot of family there. It’d be good to … put some faces to some voices that I’ve heard over the phone.”
They will meet a level-headed, articulate 26-year-old who has not forgotten where he came from despite his allegiance being firmly with Australia. The extraordinary hurdles his father had to overcome to reach his peak as a sportsman – playing in the Portuguese second-division with the club Camara de Lobos – also offer him perspective.
The Henriques settled in Peakhurst all those years ago, Alvaro finding a job at a warehouse at a sheet-metal and air-conditioning company where he still works designing ducts. The pay was not spectacular but it allowed a young Moises, and his brothers Nicholas, now 20, and Robert, 18, luxuries Alvaro did not have when growing up.
Sport was central to Henriques’s upbringing, and he was good at everything from football and rugby league – he played second row and centre for the Dragons in under-16s – to, of course, cricket.
Alvaro grew up in different circumstances. He was barred from playing sport, having to instead work from a young age to supplement his family’s meagre income. Incredibly, he kept his burgeoning career a secret from his own father until his pro debut.
“He comes from a very poor family and he wasn’t allowed to play sport or anything like that,” Henriques says. “He had to work under age. Neither of his parents ever knew that he ever played and his brothers and his sisters used to take him to the games because they knew he was quite good.
“The first professional game my dad played – that was the first time his old man found out he’d been playing soccer. He was furious that he knew my dad had been playing for all those years … He wanted him to stop straight away, because while he was playing soccer he could have been earning money for the family.”
Henriques’s heritage took a back seat as he immersed himself in Australian life as a boy. He had been too young to remember his family’s former homeland, and was not really interested. Now he wishes he’d had a different attitude.
“They came out and they wanted to speak Portuguese in the house but I just wanted to be an Australian kid,” he says. ”I
wanted to fit in and play all the Australian sports … I’d have a sook whenever they spoke in Portuguese. I’d say, ‘You’re in Australia now, speak English’. I regret not learning the language, because it’d be handy now.”
If Henriques was indifferent to his background then, there were others increasingly in the know about it as he grew older and his emergence as a cricketer drew attention. His European Union passport sparked a clamour of interest from English counties keen to have the richly talented teenager sign with them. But that would have meant relinquishing his eligibility to play for Australia, something he was never prepared to do.
“The first time I got approached was when I was about 17 or 18 in the under-19s at the World Cup in Sri Lanka. One of the English coaches found out and was on top of it straight away, trying to get me over to his county. It’s happened a fair bit since.
“But I never even contemplated it. I never even saw it as possible because all I ever wanted to do was play for Australia.”
Now that he has done so at Test level – and with distinction – Henriques’s name on that list of famous Madeirans from Funchal is not looking so out of place right above Ronaldo’s.
“He was born on the same island but I think that’s where the similarities stop,” Henriques says. “I dare say he’d have no idea who I am.”