Martin David Crowe (22 September 1962 – 3 March 2016)
Today New Zealand greatest ever test batsman left us. It did not come as a huge surprise; his battles with health have been well documented, but that does not diminish the feeling of loss.
He may not end up statistically New Zealand’s best batsman, and both Taylor and Williamson are likely to challenge him there, but Crowe will always hold a special place in the hearts of this country’s cricket fans.
His batting was a feast for the senses. The sight of his text-book technique; best exemplified by that straight drive. The sense that he had just so much time, and the glorious sound of the ball on bat.
He was a child prodigy; playing for Auckland while still at Secondary School. In 1982 he made his debut with only a handful of first class games, and one first class century, under his belt. Against Lillee & Thomson, and under the captaincy of Geoff Howarth who was not fond of this new upstart threat. Needless to say, it didn’t go well.
Two years later he was back at The Basin announcing himself. As a 21 year old he played out a coaching manual; even managing to run out Howarth in the process. He had arrived.
For the next 10 years he dominated New Zealand cricket with the bat. And a large part of that coincided with Richard Hadlee dominating with the ball. The Golden Years.
There were many memorable innings to choose from, but probably the biggest legacy is that every series during that time contained at least one century.
There were the dual 188s in 1985; one in the West Indies, and the other in Brisbane. The centuries against the all conquering Windies in 1987, the marathon against Pakistan in 1989 and, of course, the 299 against Sri Lanka in 1991. How that ate away at him will never be known, but the outpouring of emotion when McCullum scored the 302 in February gave us a clue.
Amongst that was arguably his best knock. The 137 against Allan Border’s Australians in 1986.
Batting without a visor he’d stroked his way to 51 before being hit on the chin by Bruce Reid. Six stiches later, and after a cameo from Ian Smith he returned, wearing a visor this time. At tea he was on 76 with Coney on 95. He would make his century ahead of his skipper in an adrenalin fuelled innings of all the shots in the book. Two balls later, Coney would hole out for 98; swept away in the emotion of it all. Crowe was last out for 137.
It wasn’t Bert Sutcliffe 1953, but it was an innings that took Crowe to the next level.
His captaincy famously went to a new level during the 1992 Cricket World Cup; in a format of the game he was hitherto pretty dismissive of. While Warren Lees clearly had a large hand in the tactical decisions, it was Crowe who had the instinct to know how to implement them on the park.
Injuries would then challenge him towards the end of his career. There was time for one final hurrah at Lords in 1994. He scored 142 in an innings that Angus Fraser described as “pretty much perfect”. And he did it batting on one leg; bone on bone.
He was never shy of wearing his heart and thoughts on his sleeve. At its best there were interviews like this with one of the greatest closing lines ever.
On the other hand, the burning of the metaphorical blazer during the Taylor / McCullum captaincy furore in late 2012 was possibly something he would later regret. But it did show that he cared.
That lateral thinking left two legacies. Cricket Max was a decade ahead of its time. Crowe saw the need for Third Generation Cricket and came up with a new way of playing the game.
He had this new found infatuation with short form cricket yet he attempted to incorporate it with his purist inclinations. The Max Zone was a brilliant innovation; even now commentators applaud the loft over the bowler’s head. The four stumps idea; short lived as it was, also had purist origins,
It was probably ahead of itself in terms of public demand, and was too innovative. The strange thing with T20 is that, for all its marketing and branding innovations, it is just a cut-down version of a previously established format. They haven’t even bothered modifying Duckworth-Lewis for that yet.
That was Crowe reaching out to the future a bit early. But when he reached back into the past he changed. Rugby in New Zealand has lost a lot of its connection from its origins. Crowe, old boy of Auckland Grammar School, saw that and suggested that College First XV rugby was the cornerstone for the average New Zealander. He was rubbished for that, but he was right.
In an environment where rugby TV viewership is down, he identified a niche for growth, and he nailed it. That ability to think outside the square.
He was also a vocal critic of the demise of live radio commentary of New Zealand domestic cricket. But for his ailing health, he would have done something about it.
And the way he despised Sonny Shaw was a thing of beauty.