Sports

Martin Crowe – Jeremy Wells, Sonia Gray and more pay tribute to a batsman of many contradictions

Our Spinoff writers remember Martin Crowe: an old-school batting technician who became the headband-clad hero of the 1992 Cricket World Cup, the inventor of Cricket Max, and a regular antagonist to the cricketing establishment.

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Sonia Gray, TV presenter, Black Caps tragic

I first met Martin Crowe in 2000 when we filmed a promo for Sky Movies together. There were camera issues early on, so I found myself killing time in the Auckland Domain wintergarden with my childhood hero.

I expected him to be frustrated, to want to be anywhere but here doing this random gig with a random girl in a greenhouse. But instead he was chatty and light, despite the Y2K bug felling our camera crew. He laughed when I told him he was responsible for the niggling sporting injury I still carry, a tender spot on the outside of my right hand, the result of a fist vs. coffee table, delivered in sympathy when he threw the bat at the dressing room door after getting out on 299 against Sri Lanka. “Cricket is toil and frustration and disappointment for 90 per cent of the time” he said, “but we toil away for that 10 per cent reward”. And then he started talking about his problematic fridge, and should he fix it or replace it, and there I was, unbelievably, discussing the ins and outs of whiteware with a legend.

“What about you?” said Martin Crowe, “what are you doing?” And I said “Well I’ve started doing this presenting thing. Maybe it’s a thing, I don’t know…” “It’s a thing,” he said. “Push through.” And then when the camera was up and running he said “Sonia, you’re the expert. You tell me what to do.”

He was even better in person than he was on the Young Guns poster on my childhood bedroom wall: gentle, kind and, holy hell, what a batsman.

Jeremy Wells, Radio Hauraki morning host, also a Black Caps tragic

Martin Crowe was a beautiful batsman. His casual confident swagger, his impeccably decisive footwork and his soft hands made him the most elegant cricketer we’ve ever produced. He was so skilled, he scored good-looking ducks.

Samuel Scott, Phoenix Foundation music man, cricket fan

Martin Crowe seemed an open-minded soul. On the one hand, his steady poise and elegant stroke-making was from another era, ancient and timeless. On the other, he was a pioneer of the new era of cricket. He understood the power of spectacle. He wanted cricket to change with the world around it, to be more exciting. Our greatest batsman in the white-shirt code was happy to strut out in a ODI wearing a Dire Straits-esque sweat band and put on a show for the cameras.

He left the sport young, but he never left the public eye. There has never been another New Zealand sportsperson in any code who has revealed as much about themselves to the world as Crowe did. He shared his emotions, he shared his flaws, and he definitely shared his technique with any batsmen willing to listen. Ultimately he shared his illness with trademark openness. It’s that feeling that we all knew him that makes him special. He was an absolute master of his craft, but he was also just one of the dudes.

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Duncan Greive, Spinoff big cheese, occasional sportswriter

I always found Martin Crowe a fascinating figure – a sporting hero from the most Establishment of backgrounds who frequently found himself at odds with power brokers throughout his career. He was such a restless figure, unable to accept mediocrity or missed opportunity in a way that the rest of us learn to do as a method of keeping our heads. The wars he got into with Sky spring to mind, as does his before-its-time presaging of T20 with Cricket Max.

My own – and only – contact with him came through another of his misadventures, his aborted comeback in 2011. Ben Stanley captured it beautifully in a report for the Sunday Star-Times. I read the story and immediately thought about what a great Metro feature it would make, spending a summer watching the man attempt this surely doomed act of sporting folly.

I watched him get out cheaply near Hunter’s Corner in Papatoetoe playing B grade club cricket, which was a sad spectacle. A week or so later I saw him playing in the Domain social competition, alongside Marc Ellis and a few other media types. Ellis, an accomplished cricketer, hogged all the runs, and you could see Crowe getting agitated beyond the boundary.

When Ellis finally got out there were four runs needed. He strode out, and after a single sighter, hit the winning runs with a classically shaped drive. It was a glorious stroke on a warm December evening, and his comeback seemed very much alive.

A week later he called to say his knee had given out, and the comeback was over, and with it the feature. But for all the scorn and quizzical commentary it had attracted, I thought it was a truly admirable attempt to fight the passage of time with a cricket bat. And I’ll always remember that shot.

Watch: Paul Holmes interviews Martin and Russell Crowe

Andrew Mulligan, The Crowd Goes Wild host

I first started at Sky in 2005 and just marvelled at the fact this legend was wandering the same halls as mere mortals. Being involved in Sky Sports early on, I invariably ran into him a lot and he’d always come in talk to Mark Richardson about batting, form and cricket in general. He had a wicked sense of humour and would basically get inside Mark’s head purely for his and also my enjoyment. He also offered me a free hair piece if I ever decided to take that route. Generous to a fault!

Richard Irvine, former Black Caps publicist

As a cricket-berserk youngster, never happier than when cleaning a thigh pad or something equally unnecessary, many of my best early memories were formed sitting on a couch and watching Martin Crowe bat. All his peers made the most of their homespun techniques (think Jeremy Coney’s elbow-y drives or Andrew Jones’ leaping, leaning backfoot play), but Crowe was the real deal. Endless summer days were spent happily indoors, obsessing over his old-school bat-on-the-ground stance, dead still until the last minute before leaning on a straight drive, or crashing it over the Basin’s outfield practice wickets, or manhandling a pull over Eden Park’s short boundary with those gargantuan forearms.   

He started out as a boy in that streetwise, mustachioed 80s team, before becoming the team captain; an old gun in the young guns. I drove to Eden Park with some mates to see the team play South Africa in the 1992 World Cup, where his wonderful dobber-attack restricted the mysterious visitors to just 190, before prototype pinch hitters Greatbach and Latham pummeled 114 at a then-unheard-of run a ball. He and Warren Lees out-thought the world that summer, and he out-batted them too.

He was intense, and very Auckland in that brash, 80s fashion. Ex-Grammar, all headbands, necklaces and immaculate hair that disappeared on him too soon. He wanted things to be better, whether it was the New Zealand cricket team or the way we watched it on TV, and worked hard to make it so. He got a fearful dose of tall poppy treatment and you could tell it stung. I’m glad he appeared laid back and at peace strolling through the 2015 World Cup as the virtual guest of honour, with everyone wanting to just shake hands and say hi. His ICC Hall of Fame speech was as graceful as his back foot drive.  

Martin Crowe was a world-class New Zealand Test batsman and we haven’t had many of them, really. He was a top man too. Like a mate said on Twitter today, if you’re too young to remember Hogan, make sure you watch Kane Williamson all you can. Guys like this don’t play for us too often.

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