Exactly a week ago, on the day Martin Crowe departed, two outspoken personalities raised a glass to the former New Zealand batsman at their dinner table in Sydney. Ian Chappell and Sunil Gavaskar, who was recently honoured Down Under, fully understood what Crowe meant to the game and how his death would leave cricket with one less voice.
Martin Crowe on his exercycle outside the Wankhede Stadium dressing room during New Zealand’s 1995-96 tour of India. Pic/mid-day archives
Even as a player, when he had every reason to be careful about saying something his cricket bosses in New Zealand would not take kindly, Crowe wasn’t afraid to stray from the line of diplomacy. The same attitude continued when he shelved his silver fern-badged white New Zealand helmet. He spoke from his heart, and the media outlets he served were delighted with his output.
Crowe’s fearless batting extended to his expert comments. When Australian opener David Warner’s behaviour reached ‘thuggish’ proportions in the 2014-15 season, Crowe wrote: “Warner can play, yet he is the most juvenile cricketer I have seen on a cricket field. I don’t care how good he is, if he continues to show all those watching that he doesn’t care, then he must be removed.”
I had the good fortune of interacting with Crowe a bit as a journalist covering New Zealand’s 1995-96 tour of India. It was his first Test tour here. He played under a captain (Lee Germon) who had never figured in Test cricket. The team was coached by former captain Glenn Turner. Crowe and Turner were not exactly mates and one could sense that handling Crowe was among Turner’s toughest challenges. He managed to get Crowe to talk to us at the Cricket Club of India where the New Zealanders trained before heading to Rajkot for their tour opener.
Crowe was in good nick, as it were, at the Cricket Club of India. He spoke about how he was treating each game as his last and displayed his annoyance at experts — cricket legends including — being insensitive in saying that he picks his tours. Justifying his absence from the 1988-89 tour of India, Crowe said, “I had salmonella poisoning in 1988 and hence missed several games for Somerset and New Zealand. But people choose to forget those facts.”
The day after that media interaction at Brabourne Stadium, Crowe walked up to a small group of journalists and asked if one of them belonged to a particular newspaper. Sharda Ugra, who then worked for that national newspaper, identified herself and Crowe, who we expected would be upset at what had appeared, told her that it was the most accurate piece of reporting he had ever come across.
After the drawn match in Rajkot where he got his first hundred on Indian soil, I caught up with Crowe while he was pedalling away on the team’s exercycle which was brought to India as part of their equipment. He appeared happy with his century effort but rued the fact that the Rajkot pitch had begun to take turn only on the third day and that an extended session on a turning track would have satisfied him further. For him, a three-day game seemed insufficient for a good tune-up. In a few days, New Zealand were slated to play Sachin Tendulkar’s Ranji Trophy champions in Mumbai and Crowe, still in no mood to wind up his exercycling session, said the Mumbai game would be like playing the first Test. But his troublesome knee needed rest and the Wankhede crowd missed out on a chance to see Crowe bat.
He flopped in the Test series but scored a match-winning century in the opening one-day international at Jamshedpur. The 1995 one-dayers in India turned out to be Crowe’s last international series. I interviewed him three years later during the Mini World Cup at Dhaka. Crowe was at the event to promote a brand of limited overs cricket called Super Max Eights. While Crowe plugged his format, he also expressed his desire to see a World Championship of Test cricket initiated by the International Cricket Council. I then asked him about Turner’s book Lifting the Covers in which he had been criticised. Crowe hit back: “No one apart from one cricketer (Lee Germon) could relate to him (Turner) and understand what he was trying to do. And Germon was not fit to play Test cricket.”
We got our headline when he added, “No one cares a sh** (referring to the book). We are too busy watching the rugby.”
Rugby was another passion for Crowe. He was also a rugby producer during his stint with Sky Sports in New Zealand. Rugby broadcaster Keith Quinn, while paying tribute last week, recalled Crowe telling him how he loved visualisation in his playing days. In one of their car journeys, Crowe narrated an incident of him going down to his garage one afternoon in Queenstown, reaching out for his bat, putting on his gloves to shadow practice for an hour and fantasising about batting against Ian Botham & Co in a Test at Lord’s. And just as he reached his make-believe century and waved to the ‘Lord’s crowd’, the garage door opened. It was Crowe’s then wife, Simone, who wondered what her husband was up to 10,000 miles away from cricket’s most fabled venue. She got her answer: “I’ve just scored a ton at Lord’s.”
Even as cancer chipped at his fortitude and patience, he thought about the game’s future. Martin David Crowe was an evangelist of change. Cricket will miss him.
mid-day’s group sports editor Clayton Murzello is a purist with an open stance. He tweets @ClaytonMurzello. Send your feedback to firstname.lastname@example.org