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Martin Crowe played instrumental role in making New Zealand a force in world cricket

By Harsh Thakor*

Late Martin Crowe was the perfect manifestation of how mere figures could not convey or do justice to the true merit of a batsman. Crowe was arguably the most complete  or majestic batsmen of his era or the ultimate embodiment of batting perfection, or the classical batsmen. He perished 7 years ago, due to a rare and aggressive form of cancer, follicular lymphoma, which originated in 2012. In September, we celebrated his 60th birthday but sadly he left for his heavenly abode.
Few ever had more time to execute their strokes or dazzled with as much grace or in such an imperious manner. He accumulated runs with poise, grace and elan, at scale rarely surpassed. The beauty and finesse of his strokes were reminiscent of a lotus blossoming. Crowe literally glided a cricket ball with his wrists.
Crowe was creature of all the biological instincts that bred great batsmen. Crowe virtually single handedly carried the mantle of his team’s batting ,like few ever did in cricket history, and played an instrumental role in making New Zealand a force to reckon with, in the international arena. 
Rarely have I witnessed any batsmen punish the best deliveries, with such remorseless ease. In full flow, Crowe touched batting virtuosity in zones rarely transcended. He simply looked like guiding a ball at his own free will, on a cricket pitch. His repertoire, reminded one of a bag of tricks of a magician.
Rarely have I witnessed batsmen, pierce the most seemingly impregnable gaps, in such an effortless manner, with the uncanny ability of manufacturing strokes. Crowe lamented into his drives with the majestic grace of ballad dancer, with the timing and balance of a musical symphony conductor. 
Predominantly, Crowe was a front-foot player. Few ever in such a magnitude blended technical skill, with grace and creativity.Crowe earned his baptism into cricket at the age of nineteen, representing junior teams of Cornwall and Auckland park. Martin Crowe and Richard Hadlee were the props or a virtual 2 many army, in elevating the stature of New Zealand Cricket to make an impact on the cricketing map.
Ironic, that Wasim Akram and Waqar Younus, who arguably comprised the best pace bowling  duo ever in the history of cricket, have rated Martin Crowe, as the hardest batsmen they ever bowled to, or the one who played them best, overshadowing even Brian Lara and Sachin Tendulkar. Crowe read or judged swing and reverse swing, immaculately, in the degree of a connoisseur. Unlike other batsmen who were wrong footed, he would plant himself into a proper position.
He could score of very good balls, which other batsmen would struggle to even defend, with his short back lift, strong forearms and ability to read length early. Martin could punish seemingly unplayable Yorkers, through the covers, making the best bowlers hapless or in a state of bewilderment. When offered the most remote width or shorter ball, he would cut, hook or pull it ,making  opponents t shiver. At best, he treated the best of cricket balls like a toy.
Crowe was arguably the best player of express pace in the world in the early 1990’s. He made an adjustment to both forms of the game in the manner of a playing a role a villain in a movie. Wasim Akram or Waqar Younus bowling to Martin Crowe was debatably cricket’s most spectacular and intense duel, worth preserving in a museum.

Career Highlights 

Crowe made his international debut for New Zealand in February 1982, in an ODI game against Australia played at Auckland's Eden Park. He made his Test debut at the end of the month, playing against the same team at Wellington's Basin Reserve.
Crowe displayed his prowess when scoring a breezy 97 against England in the 1983 Prudential world cup game. In Januray, 1984, he scored his first test century, playing against England. Remarkable that Crowe averaged above 66 in and against Australia. He was major architect of their maiden series triumph in Australia, in 1985-86.His 188, in the 1st test at Brisbane, manifested batting virtuosity at scale rarely transcended, executing every stroke in the book. 
Crowe also plundered runs against top quality Pakistan pace and spin attacks. When scoring 188, of 462 balls,in Georgetown., against West Indies, in 1985, Martin illustrated his adept skill or prowess against express pace, which he tackled with the composure of a musical conductor. 
Crowe’s other classics were his 174 against Pakistan in 1988-89 and 299 v Sri Lanka, all reminding one of famous monument being sculpted. It was a sight to behold witnessing Crowe against the likes of Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Wasim Akrama nd Waqar Younus.
When scoring 299 against Sri Lanka in 1991, he set a new record for the highest score by a New Zealander. He occupied the crease for 523 balls and over ten hours, and scored 29 fours and three sixes. Crowe and Andrew Jones (who scored 186) put on 467 runs for the third wicket, setting a new record for the highest partnership in Test cricket. The pair enabled New Zealand, behind by 323 runs on the first innings, to score 671/4 at the end of the final day's play, which at the time was the highest score in the third innings of a Test.
I can never forget his magical improvisation in a league game against Australia, in the 1987 Reliance world cup, where from dire straits with the run rate escalating to over 10 runs per over, Crowe all but took the Kiwis home, before his dismissal ,in the final over.
In the 1992 cricket world cup, Crowe was the leading scorer with 456 runs and, averaging 64. Few batsmen were more consistency personified as Crowe, in world cup history. He all, but steered the Kiwis, into the final. Regrettably, Crowe underwent a lean trot, on the 1995 tour of India.
As the New Zealand skipper in 1992 world cup he innovated a new cricketing method of pinch hitting with Mark Greatbach  as well as opening with a spin bowler,Dipak Patel..It was master plan, which all but secured a place for the Kiwis in the final, being till the semi-final, the best side of the tournament.
In a single test series Crowe was at his best in Australia, in 1985-86, when he averaged 77.25 and scored 309 runs, being the propelling force for a series win. He also excelled in England in 1986,averaging 68.66,in Australia in 1987-8 averaging  56.49, against West Indies at home in 1987 averaging 65.6, against Pakistan at home in 1988-89,averaging 87 and in 1990-91 at home against Sri Lanka, when he averaged 121.66. Crowe’s averaging 30.88 in West Indies in 1985-86 did not do justice to his great ability. Sadly, in 1995, knee problems curtailed his glittering career, and forced him into premature retitrement.

Evaluation 

Martin Crowe concluded his test career scoring 5444 runs, scoring 17 centuries, at an average of 45.36. playing 77 tests and 131 innings. In ODI’ s he scored 4704 runs at an average of 38.55 ,with 4 centuries. Notably in first class games he averaged 56.02 and amassed 19608 runs, with 71 centuries, which is remarkable.
 He averaged 55.4, in tests won. In drawn games, Crowe, scored 12 centuries averaging above 57. Crowe was relatively disappointing in England, averaging around 40, as well as in Sri Lanka, India and South Africa, where he averaged.
Crowe was an architect of 16 historic Test victories in which he averaged 55.5, ten runs above his career average.  His highest Test score of 299 against Sri Lanka remained New Zealand's highest individual innings for more than two decades before Brendon McCullum's 302 versus India, in 2014.
Pertinent that Crowe’s best performances arose against teams that had the best bowling attacks of the 1980’s-Australia, Pakistan and West Indies. Had he not been affected by a slow start, he would certainly have averaged above 50.It took him 15 innings to score his first fifty, but after achieving that landmark, he was a model of consistency. I strongly feel has he played for a powerful team he would have averaged almost 50 and scored around 8000 runs. We missed out on seeing Crowe enough in West Indies or India.
Crowe in my view joined the club of players who even if statistically not all-time greats, in terms of talent on par with maestros like Viv Richards or Brian Lara. Names like Rohan Kanhai. Gundappa Vishwanath and Lawrence Rowe flash in my mind.
 In my view possibly Crowe ranks amongst the 12 most complete batsmen of all time, blending defence and attack to perfection and capable of mastering all types of wickets and bowling attacks.
Cristopher Martin Jenkins places him in 96th place in his 100 best selections of cricketers, while John Woodcock obliterates his name. In my view Crowe was a notch below the greats like Sachin Tendulkar and Brian Lara, and in the class of a Peter May, David Gower or Inzamam Ul Haq.In my view Crowe was around 75th place, amongst the greatest cricketers of all. At his best, Crowe would have made the World XI, in the early 1990’s.

Retirement 

Crowe’s s post-playing life was to be equally rich and productive .He worked often as a television commentator, and was also instrumental in inventing   a third format for the game, Cricket Max, that served as a precursor to Twenty20. Most valuably he served as a mentor for several members of the New Zealand side, notably Ross Taylor.
After retirement, he worked in the media, heading Sky's television coverage of cricket in New Zealand for a period of time, invented a new format for the sport called Cricket Max, and worked with Royal Challengers Bangalore in the early years of the IPL. After retiring, he played the role of a theoretician and connoisseur, trying to devise ways to popularise the game.He proposed forms like six-a 0-sde and eight-a –side tournaments, which were innovations.
Temperamentally, Martin could be stubborn and fiery. Martin was a great cricketing connoisseur, selecting Dennis Lillee as his best ever fast bowler, Barry Richards in his all-time team, Gary Sobers and Ian Botham amongst all-rounders ,Viv Richards and Sachin Tendulkar as his best middle order batsmen, and Sunil Gavaskar as the best batsmen of his era.
Crowe was deeply resentful of the layout of English cricket, asserting that it burnt out cricketers, and was an obstacle for players giving of their best. He was also convinced that one day cricket had an adverse effect on first class cricket and test cricket, compelling a player to make telling adjustments. Test cricket was the true test, in his opinion.
---
*Freelance journalist 

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