8th March 2016
The Mason & Guests Show
New Zealand great Martin Crowe lost his battle with cancer last week. I was asked to write and record a tribute to him, which you can read below, and hear here.
The cricket world lost one of its greats last week with the passing of Martin Crowe. His death from cancer aged 53 is a profound blow to New Zealand, who have lost arguably their greatest ever batsman only a few short months after the death of one of their greatest rugby union stars, Jonah Lomu, aged 40 in November.
Crowe played in 77 Tests between 1982 & 1995, scoring nearly five & a half thousand runs at 45.3 with 17 centuries, including a numerically agonizing 299 versus Sri Lanka in 1991. He featured in a further 143 ODIs, & in total amassed well over 10,000 international runs. His record against the great West Indies teams of the period is particularly impressive: he hit 544 runs in 7 Tests with 3 hundreds, including 188 at Georgetown in 1985 off an attack of Marshall, Garner, Holding & Clyde Butts.
He was also an outstanding fielder; & a useful & surprisingly sharp seamer – as attested to by Franklyn Stephenson, who on Line & Length recalled how Crowe nearly knocked his block off with a bouncer at the Scarborough Festival in England.
As a captain, he was inspiring & imaginative; most notably with his innovative tactics during the 1992 World Cup – when he effectively introduced the use of the pinch-hitter at the top of the batting order; & opened the bowling with spin to take the pace of the hard, new ball.
He was a New Zealand Young Cricketer of the Year in 1981; a Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1985; Player of the Tournament in the 1992 World Cup; made an MBE the same year; appeared as an extra in the Academy Award winning film Gladiator starring his first cousin Russell Crowe in 2000; & inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame in 2015.
He was a broadcaster, commentator and original thinker on the game – & an excellent ruminative writer for ESPN Cricinfo. In 1995 he published his first attempt at autobiography, ‘Out On a Limb’ which as Gideon Haigh recalled was perhaps ‘too self-justifying’. The same year a controversial ‘unauthorised’ biography of him by Joseph Romanos called ‘Tortured Genius’ appeared. “He did me better than I did me,” Crowe said.
Nearly twenty years later, when he was diagnosed with cancer, he made a second attempt at autobiography: ‘Raw’, in collaboration with his former biographer, Romanos. It displayed a contemplative, analytical mind and maturity; a richer, more fully rounded character study.
Crowe in middle-age found an honesty and self-deprecation he’d formerly lacked – and an ability for jocularity occasionally displayed in his embracing of social media. In an amusing Twitter exchange with Australian podcaster, Dennis Freedman – who’d criticised the ‘egg and bacon’ neckwear of the MCC members – Crowe tweeted to Dennis that he had a spare tie of theirs, and ‘would he like one?’ Dennis, naturally answered ‘that he’d love one’. Martin wittily replied:
“Well, best you make a hundred at Lord’s then. That’s how I got mine.”
I was privileged to be at Lord’s to witness in person that innings for which he earned his first MCC tie, his elegant 106 v England in 1986, coming in at number four with the score 5-2 – the same Test Match in which England used four different wicket-keepers in the course of New Zealand’s first innings.
I didn’t see his ‘spare tie’ innings: 142 in 1994 – but I cherish the memory of the first – as I’m sure he did its motley-coloured silk symbol – highly appropriate for this silky batsman, and colourful human being.
The Mason & Guests show salutes Martin Crowe and cherishes his memory.