Martin Crowe: An elegant batter who was a pleasure to watch
March 3, 2016 - 12:05PM
Elegant and eloquent, Martin Crowe epitomised the very best of New Zealand cricket on and off the field.
His statistics are testimony to his greatness on the Kiwi scene and ranked him as genuine world class, a fact acknowledged by anyone associated with the game.
But the greatest pleasure he gave us was that, quite simply, he was a pleasure to watch.
His batting was absolute elegance. A rare talent at the crease who always appeared to have time on his hands – his power coming from sweet timing rather than bludgeoning, his runs coming from impeccable placement and flowing off the front foot or back.
His eloquence came in transferring his cricketing brain to a wider audience. Crowe had a way of conveying a complicated game in the most succinct communication. His times behind the commentator's microphone provided brilliant analysis and insights, his way with words in his much-treasured columns just as authoritative and yet delivered with readability.
Crowe was born into the game. His father Dave was a decent first-class cricketer and a passionate coach of youth, particularly at Auckland's Cornwall club where he was keen to foster the undoubted talent of Martin and older brother Jeff.
That both would go on to not just play for New Zealand but captain their country spoke volumes of the encouraging family environment.
But Martin quickly possessed a desire that exceeded his talent. It's one thing to have the game, it's another matter to maximise that.
Martin, four years Jeff's junior, spent much of his youth trying to break out of big brother's shadow – and succeeded.
I was fortunate to witness this steely determination through the Cornwall club, Auckland Grammar and age-grade rep sides. While Jeff was good it became increasingly obvious that Martin would be better.
Maturity came quick to Martin because his talent placed him in situations beyond his years.
He was always the youngest in his teams, something that extended to his first class debut for Auckland and his Test debut for New Zealand, both in his teens.
It was a baptism of fire with the Silver Fern, peppered by Jeff Thomson bouncers in a rain-affected draw at the Basin Reserve with a debut innings that returned just nine run.
That merely steeled his determination, a hallmark of his career.
When Somerset were looking for an overseas talent to replace the seemingly incomparable Viv Richards and his West Indian team mate Joel Garner, they brought in Crowe, sparking a controversy that saw county legend Ian Botham storm off to Worcestershire in protest.
Yet Crowe slowly but surely won the Somerset faithful over with his relentless runs. Back then, he was a more than useful seam bowler as well, a skill eventually cut short by back problems.
Crowe was a perfectionist, never content with where he was at, despite his remarkable success. It was an attitude that at times could see him guilty of being too insular. He liked the finer things in life which could lead to him being misunderstood.
But the benefits were always for the teams as he prospered in some of New Zealand's finest eras.
With the sheer class of Crowe and Sir Richard Hadlee alongside the grit of players like John Wright, Jeremy Coney, John Bracewell and Ian Smith, success came at a rate never seen before.
And as the old heads fell away, Crowe was there to carry the torch, heading the infamous generation of "Young Guns".
Victories were far harder to come by but Crowe's class shone brighter than ever, a leader by example.
A strong traditionalist who thrived on the test scene, perhaps Crowe's finest moment came in the one-day arena at the 1992 World Cup that New Zealand co-hosted with Australia.
Unfancied before the tournament, Crowe's team went on an unbelievable run to lead proceedings after the round-robin phase.
Much of that could be attributed to Crowe's leadership as much as his tournament-high haul of runs.
From opening the bowling with spinner Dipak Patel to opening the batting with Mark Greatbatch's rollicking power approach, Crowe flummoxed New Zealand's opponents with an unorthodox approach. Clever use of fields and an unlikely bowling attack based around slow-medium paced bowlers to suit the local tracks continued to frustrate the world's best batsmen in his backyard.
Little wonder then that just four years later Crowe came up with a way to revolutionise the popularity of short-form cricket by dreaming up the CricketMax concept. Twenty over formats, special scoring zones, the game done and dusted in three hours, made for TV . . . this, essentially, was Twenty20 before its time.
While the game didn't take off, it was testimony to the vision of the man. He chuckled at the irony of the subsequent T20 success.
Crowe knew a good thing when he saw it too, and one of his most treasured achievements in life after cricket came during his three years in charge of the Rugby Channel on Sky TV. Having been 10 years as executive produce for cricket coverage on the pay TV channel, he revelled in the challenge of being taken outside of his comfort zone.
One initiative was to introduced extended – including live – coverage of New Zealand's 1st XVs schools competition.
It was a level he was good enough to play at Auckland Grammar – featuring at wing in a team coached by Graham Henry that had Grant Fox at No 10 - and a game he believed was a foundation for the success of the All Blacks and deserved of a wider audience.
The current renaissance in the schools scene is very much a product of Crowe's vision.
Just as Crowe's career was cut short by a knee injury, his life was ended prematurely by a second bout of cancer that not even his proven self-belief could counter.
He hung on bravely, just as he did in many of his innings, to see out the last World Cup. He marvelled in New Zealand's run to the final, took joy in helping his special projects Martin Guptill and Ross Taylor making major contributions and generally soaked up the love and fond memories of the '92 campaign that came his way. Inclusion to the ICC's hall of fame in a special ceremony at Eden Park during the remarkable win over Australia remains an eye-watering moment and a deserved accolade.
New Zealand has been robbed of one of its sporting greats while the cricketing world has lost one of its finest brains.
In recent years Crowe exhibited an open-ness and humility not always apparent when he was at the peak of his powers at the crease.
He transferred that into some wonderful essays and columns for the sport's leading specialist website Cricinfo, where his writing flowed like one of his impeccable cover drives.
The final delivery in the life of Martin David Crowe came too soon.
Crowe is survived by wife Lorraine Downes, daughter Emma and step-children Hilton and Jasmine. http://www.smh.com.au/sport/cricket/obituary-martin-crowe--new-zealand-cricket-great-20160303-gn999c.html