March 3, 2016 4:07:13 pm
There was a time when New Zealand cricket was divided in two groups—Sir Richard Hadlee made up one group and the rest of the Kiwi cricketers made up the other.
That equation changed in February of 1982, when Martin David Crowe made his debut for New Zealand against traditional foes Australia.
For long, New Zealand were there to make up the numbers. They would be expected to give a good fight, while Sir Richard tally a few more wickets, and then lose gracefully.
It took Crowe to change all of this, bringing power to add to the art of batting, and other innovations which made New Zealand actually arrive as a viable challenge to the rest.
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Within three years of his debut, Crowe was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year. He was also conferred the Member of the British Empire (MBE) title during his career.
Much has been said about the great rise of pinch-hitters in One-day internationals, and how it made the entire cricketing scenario all so different.
Cricket history tracks Sanath Jayasuriya and Romesh Kaluwitharana being the champions of this style of batting in the 1996 World Cup, but the seeds were sown when the Crowe-led New Zealanders deployed Mark Greatbatch as a new weapon at the top of the order.
This move, along with the gutsy plan to have off-spinner Dipak Patel open the bowling, was something that Crowe was instrumental in, stamping his brand of cricket on the world.
The results were that New Zealand made the semi-finals before going down to Pakistan.
Crower was also the top-scorer in the 1992 World Cup.
Crowe came from a cricketing family – his father David was a cricketer in New Zealand while elder brother Jeff represented and captained New Zealand, and is now an International Cricket Council (ICC) match referee.
But what Martin achieved was something of an absolutely new horizon for cricket as it was played in his country.
While there were other batsmen of some note – the likes of Glenn Turner and John Wright – it was Crowe that garnered the use of power as a weapon to match grace. As was evident from the Greatbatch experiment.
A total of 77 Tests and 17 centuries was a testament for Crowe’s credentials as a batsman, since New Zealand were historically a team that played fewer Tests than other countries.
Even in sheer numbers, Crowe challenged the very fibre of what was good enough as a cricketer for his nation. In 1991, he missed out on a triple-century by one run, a record that stayed till 2014, when it took someone of the calibre of Brendon McCullum to cross the milestone.
Cricket was Martin Crowe’s life, and he stayed connected to the sport right till the end. He was involved in coaching and dabbled with commentary, and was even involved with the Royal Challengers Bangalore. That was a relationship that didn’t really go down too well.
Crowe was among the stars throughout his life. He was married to a Miss Universe winner and had a cousin in Hollywood superstar, Australian Russell Crowe.
But life dealt him a cruel blow in 2012, when the cancer was diagnosed.
The very next year, he announced that the cancer had been overcome, but that sadly wasn’t true.
The disease returned with a vengeance in 2014 and the entire cricketing fraternity was shocked to hear that his days were numbered.
Crowe was inducted in the ICC Hall of Fame in February last year, when the lunch break during a New Zealand-Australia World Cup match at Auckland saw an emotional ceremony, where Crowe was seen smiling and greeting all.
The smile was to do with his wish to witness the 2015 World Cup, a wish he had expressed when the cancer came back.
It was a landmark World Cup for New Zealand, since they made it to the final of the tournament, a new landmark. It was probably quite fitting, since Martin Crowe was the person who had dared the Kiwis to dream and actually fly.
Gone were the days when New Zealand were discounted as sporting nice guys, who would play the part of gallant losers.
Crowe’s inimitable smile could turn into an aggressive grimace when needed, an attitude that was later imbibed by the eternally fluid Stephen Fleming, the fiery Shane Bond, the hammer of Brendon McCullum and scalpel that is Kane Williamson.
New Zealand became a world power under Martin David Crowe, a mantle and responsibility that has been handed over to more potential stalwarts as Brendon McCullum too signed off.
But with Crowe smiling down on the sport in the remote islands that constitute the nation, as well as the entire fraternity, the game will continue to flourish. It takes more than just cancer to conquer spirits like Martin Crowe.
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