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.
I’m not certain exactly when I fell in love with cricket, but I’m pretty sure that Robin Smith was mostly to blame. It was sometime between the start of the summer of 1988 and the autumn of 1990. The latter of those years is the only one where England weren’t a mess. It was also the first time I saw overseas players that I could truly appreciate (I was in football mode until that point, and – to my shame – hadn’t appreciated watching the likes of Marshall, Richards, Steve Waugh and Alderman destroy the team I supported). The three players that I loved watching, in spite of their ‘opposition status’, were Richard Hadlee, Kapil Dev and Martin Crowe.
I must confess that I’ve had to recheck the stats on this this morning, as I’d always convinced myself that Martin Crowe scored a century – one of the finest I’ve ever seen – in that 1990 tour, but it must have been the 1994 tour. But there was just something about his batting that drew me in in a way none of the other overseas batsmen that I’d watched at that point had managed. Again, my memory may be playing tricks on me a little but he seemed to hit sixes in an era when ‘proper batsmen’ generally didn’t. But he was never a slogger, though, always wonderfully elegant. Another great cricket memory for me – and I don’t know why – was Craig White knocking the badge off Crowe’s helmet with a bouncer on debut in 1994. A Yorkshire player doing that to one of the great batsmen in world cricket!
I don’t know exactly when I fell in love with cricket, but I do know that Martin Crowe was one of the cricketers most responsible for my passion for the sport. His passing at such a young age is a terrible, terrible tragedy. My thoughts are with his family and friends today.
Thanks OC. A lovely tribute.
Nice tribute. Sorry to refer you to a “competitor”, but Jarrod Kimber’s tribute is also worth your time.
“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. ”
Heh heh, only someone who fell in love with cricket in the *late* 1980s could write that. Not quibbling about Hadlee (although look who took the wickets when NZ finally won in England in ’83), but some of us remember this hundred with absolute horror:
Sometimes Hadlee decided to score all the runs as well:
Then there was Jeremy Coney (174*) and Lance Cairns (64) with a ninth-wicket partnership of 118 in the game before, and Ian Smith with an undefeated hundred in the game after.
Martin Crowe was a truly great player – I for one never realised until today he had a first-class average of 56. But I would guard against defining the 80s New Zealanders as a two-man team. They were very hard to beat – England didn’t manage it for 11 consecutive Tests, home and away, over seven years between 1983 and 1990. They beat the West Indies at home in 1979-80 and did not lose a Test series at home again until 1991-92. They didn’t travel very well, winning 7 out of 31 away Tests, but then England’s record over the same decade was 6 out of 44 (an Ashes and a win in India covering up an awful lot of rubbish… where have we heard that before).
Anyway, a magnificent player and by all accounts man, and cricket is once again poorer for the loss.
Hi Arron. I didn’t mean a two man team literally! I was writing from a child’s perspective. But Crowe was indeed head and shoulders above the other batsmen. He also had a brother who scored some valuable runs I recall :-)
Lovely tribute, James – thanks very much. Crowe was always a great favourite of mine – I remember seeing him in the flesh hit a century in a B&H zonal game at Hove and some of his legside shots are still etched on my memory. It takes something to make a B&H zonal game memorable!
Gideon Haigh’s tribute is a thing of rare beauty:
A couple of other points about Martin Crowe:
1) He was a real thinker about the game and, although not every idea he had has stuck, he was for example largely the inventor of the ODI pinch-hitter with Mark Greatbatch’s promotion in the 1991/92 WC pre-dating Jayasuriya in 1996.
2) He was no ‘flat track bully’ as a batsman and batted much of his career in crises with his team in trouble against top-class bowling. He averaged 45 and made three centuries against the 1980s West Indies – only Allan Border had a better average (helped by 6 not outs to Crowe’s one) and only Gooch, Lamb and Vengsarkar made more centuries (and they all made only one more century playing at least twice the number of games that Crowe did).
Nice tribute James and as you say, a sad day even though we all knew it was coming. I too adored Crowe’s batting growing up in the 1980s – his style, elegance and the fact he often batted without a helmet. I can particularly recall watching a Test (turns out it was Trent Bridge 1990) where I said to the friend I was watching it with on TV that I hoped he’d make a 50 because he was so good to watch. I remember it because he was out for 59 – there weren’t many players I’d have wanted to make a 50 against England as a teenager!
I also didn’t realise until today what a mediocre start he had to his Test career. He made his 100th run in his 9th innings, averaged 20 after 20 innings and made just one century (exactly 100) in his first 33. A message there in the context of all the openers England have discarded after about 10 innings in recent years, some of whom made a century…
Final thought on New Zealand’s greatest ever batsman. My dad described Crowe as “the best Kiwi batsman he’d seen since Martin Donnelly”. Who he thought was better I’m not sure. Dad saw Donnelly make 200 at Lord’s in 1949 and although he only played 7 Tests, he averaged over 50 and had a similarly good First Class record.
Never easy to compare across generations, but my guess from reports is he deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as Crowe and Turner.
Thank you for your tribute. I was lucky enough to see all four of the Tests he played at Lord’s from 1983 to 1994 including, therefore, his two hundreds. His 140 odd in 1994 sticks in my as one of the most aesthetically pleasing and technically superb innings I can recall. It was the cliched master-class.
Equally interesting was the 100 he got in the county game there v Middlesex in 1983. Middlesex put out a team with 10 test cricketers in it and Edmonds and Emburey went through them in the first innings – to get a 100* in the second at the age of 20 was no mean feat.
Crowe was also a fine, innovative and brave thinker about the game. His Cowdrey lecture in the Spirit of Cricket series is easily found with the help of those nice folk at Google. It tells an awful lot (in my view almost entirely positive) about the man.
If there is a heaven, then the middle order for men of a certain age (most of them markedly older than most of you lot) might well read Gower, Richards (IVA) and Crowe – as long as the finest player I have ever seen BA Richards can open!
Sky have put together a tribute. Only 10 minutes but it features a lot of wonderful archive clips.
One of the greatest batsmen of my lifetime. RIP x
“I’m sure he’ll be looking down and telling me to play straight.”
Not just a great batsman; a fine person.