Named after Martin Donnelly who had scored his only century, 206 at Lord’s in 1949, Martin Crowe was born with a destiny already chosen for him. Thankfully for the world and a nation trying to make a mark in international cricket, Crowe wasn’t averse to the idea of treading the path chosen for him. Especially when his brother Jeff had already started getting attention before making it big playing for South Australia.
After a fast-forwarded junior stint, Crowe made his debut against Australia, aged just 19. He could only make nine and for the first few innings, didn’t average great. But that slowly started to change after his maiden hundred against England in Wellington in 1984, after which Crowe averaged in the mid-50s till the end of his career. It showed how effective a batsman Crowe was when the world was experiencing the last wave of great fast bowlers like Curtley Ambrose, Courtney Walsh, Wasim Akram and Waqar Younis. Without solid technique, it was impossible to finish with an average of 45.36.
Crowe was hailed New Zealand’s best Test batsman ever. But that is only a part of his legacy. If it hadn’t been for Crowe’s captaincy, the world wouldn’t have been exposed to the idea of pinch-hitting. It was Crowe’s idea that resulted in Mark Greatbatch’s rampage at a time when batsmen were supposed to carefully see out the first 15 overs. That insight essentially sowed the seeds of Twenty20, more than 15 years before it actually came into being.
The 1992 World Cup could have been a watershed moment for Crowe where after a great run New Zealand were facing Pakistan in the semi-final in Auckland, his home town. With rain predicted, Crowe won the toss and opted to bat. Crowe made 91 and New Zealand scored 262 which Crowe thought was enough to send them to the final provided they bowl intelligently. Having pulled his left hamstring, Crowe didn’t take the field in the Pakistan innings to avoid aggravating the injury and gave charge to John Wright. Crowe later said that he had the bowling changes all figured out but since Wright had a mind of his own, he went about juggling the bowling according to his wish.
With his left leg strapped, Crowe watched in pain as New Zealand slowly lost the plot, allowing Rameez Raja, Imran Khan, Javed Miandad and a young Inzamam-ul-Haq snatch a famous victory. It was a day of regret and hurt for Crowe the New Zealand captain. As batsman, his moment of reckoning had come a year earlier against Sri Lanka at the Basin Reserve but he edged Arjuna Ranatunga to be dismissed for 299. Often in his columns and interviews post retirement, Crowe had mentioned these two incidents taking a toll on his mind.
Thankfully, Crowe lived long enough to see both figures bettered. In 2014 when Brendon McCullum became the first Kiwi to score a triple century, against India and incidentally at the same venue where he had made 299, Crowe wrote a column for espncricinfo that was special in many ways.
Crowe thanked McCullum for removing the load off his chest but then laid bare his emotions with magnanimous honesty. He believed that the cancer was a result of his ‘toxic suppression of negative events’ throughout his life. Crowe confessed to being angered and even tormented by the events but also how he had learnt to let go of all that in the last leg of his life. Here was a man who was not afraid to share his most deep-seated feelings.
That he lived and breathed cricket was evident in how Crowe spent the last years of his life after being diagnosed with lymphoma in 2012. Through his writing, Crowe implored cricketers to get rid of anger and ill-feeling. His mentorship of New Zealand, especially Ross Taylor, had changed the way the side approached crucial matches. But a most fascinating part of Crowe’s short but glorious life was his relationship with McCullum. Generations and technique separated the two but there was no doubt that Crowe gained from McCullum’s gains.
McCullum scored 300 but it had a more calming effect on the restless batsman in Crowe. Throughout the time McCullum and his team slowly rose to the final in last year’s World Cup, Crowe was like a nervous parent on television --- confident of his ward’s ability but also skeptical of the luck factor. New Zealand ran out of luck in the final and so did Crowe eventually in life but the indomitable spirit that he personified should continue to inspire more cricketing generations.