Sad news today. Martin Crowe, who was one of the best batsmen I’ve ever seen, has passed away. Everyone knew he was terminally ill but it’s still very, very sad.
As someone who fell in love with cricket in the late 1980s, when Crowe was at his peak of his powers, I’ve always had a soft spot for him. He was a purist’s dream: a stylish player with a rock solid technique and a great temperament. There’s no question that he’s New Zealand’s finest ever batsman. Only the equally elegant Glenn Turner comes close.
Back in the 80s, New Zealand almost seemed like a two-man team. Sir Richard Hadlee took all the wickets and Crowe scored all the runs. Even though Crowe had to face some of the most ferocious attacks of all time, and carried the whole batting order on his shoulders, his record was absolutely superb: 5444 runs at an average of 45. He would have scored a lot more runs too if his knees hadn’t forced him to retire at the age of 33.
The benchmark for a world class player back then was 40 – much like today’s benchmark is probably 50. Crowe was most definitely world class – the wicket the opposition always prized most. He was undoubtedly one of the best batsmen in the world, perhaps eclipsed only by the great Sir Viv.
I used to enjoy watching Crowe almost as much as I enjoyed watching David Gower (who averaged a smidgeon less). When I played cricket in the back garden with my neighbour I was rarely an overseas player. Being a right hander I was usually Gooch, Lamb or Botham. However, Crowe was the exception. I even used a Duncan Fearnley bat – just like him.
The way Crowe drove the ball straight down the ground, and through the covers with a full flourish of the bat, was poetry. He was also extremely quick on his feet. He made pulling genuinely fast bowlers look simple. He always seemed to have so much time to play the ball – always a sign of a top class talent.
But it wasn’t just Crowe’s batting everyone admired. Although he was never short of an opinion, he really seemed to care about the spirit of the game. He was sometimes critical of Australia’s ultra-aggressive behaviour (I guess you wouldn’t expect a Kiwi to be anything else!) and he always encouraged Brendon McCullum’s Black Caps to play hard but fair.
Indeed, Crowe’s influence over several of New Zealand’s senior players, and the way the Kiwis play with a smile on their face, has often been attributed (in part) to him.
There’s nothing more I can add really. Cricket has lost a true great today. He was just 53 years old. How unfair.
I’ve just received this touching tribute from Pete Cresswell. Pete’s a Kiwi so he offers a slightly different perspective. Rather than starting a new thread, I thought I’d simply add Pete’s tribute here.
There are a few players whose names come up in NZ cricket circles when we discuss who our greatest batsman was. Stewie Dempster, Martin Donnelly, Bert Sutcliffe and Glenn Turner all have their adherents, while Kane Williamson is shaping up to join the list. But for me, who fell in love with cricket as a child during NZ’s 1980s “golden era”, Martin David “Hogan” Crowe has a firm hold on that title.
5,500 test runs at an average a smidge under 45 in raw numbers speaks of a good player rather than a great, even allowing for having to bat on New Zealand pitches in an era of great fast bowling, though an NZ-record 17 test centuries and 18 50s make for an impressive conversion rate. But the stats don’t tell the whole story, NZ’s paucity of depth and talent meant Crowe was picked too young at 18, and stayed in the team into the 90’s despite being limited by a chronic knee injury. Between 1985 and 1994 he averaged 53, impressive even in today’s big-bat era.
Crowe was a stylish batsman, a great exponent of the pool shot and the cover drive. Every cricket loving boy in the ’80s aspired to wield a Duncan Fearnley Magnum bat like their hero. I was gutted later in his career when he switched to Gunn & Moore. His batting had an artistic flair that also came out in his captaincy.
Crowe followed his older brother Jeff into the NZ captaincy, and set about innovatively making the most of scarce resources in the post-Hadlee period. In the 1991 World Cup his NZ side pioneered the use of 2 pinch hitting openers as well as opening the bowling with an off-spinner before being upset by Pakistan in the semi-finals, with Crowe unable to lead New Zealand in the field due to a hamstring injury.
After his playing career ended Crowe moved into sports broadcasting, where he instigated Cricket Max, a forerunner of T20 at first class level in NZ, meaning he can be regarded as the godfather of T20 cricket.
In his final, cancer ridden years he mellowed somewhat (though the less said about his club cricket comeback aged 47 the better) into an inspiring elder statesman of the game in NZ, and he was fittingly feted at last year’s World Cup, another one where an aggressive NZ side excelled.
I’ll finish by answering a question famously posed by Crowe’s cousin Russell: thank you for the memories Martin. Yes we were greatly entertained.