A pall of gloom descended over the cricket community following the tragic passing away of Martin Crowe, former Black Caps captain and perhaps New Zealand's greatest batsman of all time, on Thursday at the age of 53.
Crowe was part of New Zealand’s glorious transformation as a competitive side that consistently gave the top teams a run for their money during the 1980s. A sound batsman with a superb technique, Crowe produced a number of stellar performances throughout his career, averaging 55.5 in the 16 Tests that New Zealand won of which he was a part.
Crowe was born into the game. His father Dave was a stalwart of the Cornwall cricket club in Auckland while his elder brother Jeff followed him into the New Zealand side. Fluent at the crease with all the time in the world to play shots, he broke into the Auckland team as an 18-year-old where he scored 51 in his first innings against Canterbury.
Crowe's precocious talent was rewarded 12 months later when he made his Test debut against an Australia side containing the snarling menace of Jeff Thomson and Dennis Lillee. He was named one of Wisden's Cricketers of the Year in 1985 and his 188 against Australia in November that year established him as one of New Zealand's best batsmen.
His finest hour with the bat, however, came in 1991 when he combined with Andrew Jones in a stand of 467 runs to save the first Test against Sri Lanka, scoring 299 before being caught behind from the slow medium pace of Arjuna Ranatunga. His captaincy during the 1992 World Cup cemented his legacy.
Crowe used innovative tactics, such as opening the bowling with off-spinner Dipak Patel, while constantly rotating his bowlers and changing fields to put pressure on batsmen. But a knee injury that had been bothering him for several years began to affect him more and more, and Ken Rutherford assumed the captaincy as Crowe battled to recover from surgeries.
The injury brought his career to an end in 1995 after 77 Tests and 143 ODIs. He finished with 5,444 Test runs at 45.36 with a high score of 299 and 17 centuries, which is still the most by a New Zealand batman.
Firstpost has picked five of his top performances in both Tests and One-Day Internationals (listed in chronological order):
1. 188 vs West Indies, 2nd Test, Georgetown 1985
Standing up to the West Indian pacers of the 1970s and 1980s was equivalent to scaling the Mount Everest on minimum oxigen supply. That is exactly what 23-year-old Crowe accomplished barely three years after making his mark in international cricket. Crowe took on a menacing attack that comprised of the deadly trio of Malcolm Marshall, Joel Garner and Michael Holding, and managed stand his ground for 462 deliveries in a marathon innings in which was he was finally trapped leg-before by Garner. The innings however, was testament to his grit as well as his superior technique.
2. 299 vs Sri Lanka, 1st Test, Wellington, 1991
The knock that people most vividly remember Crowe for. The knock in which Crowe set new batting standards for the Black Caps. The knock which held the record for the highest score by a New Zealander for more than two decades, before one Brendon McCullum smashed a hapless Indian bowling attack apart to bring up the first triple ton by a Kiwi.
New Zealand were trailing an unfancied Sri Lankan side (mind you, this is the pre-1996 Lanka we are talking about) by 323 runs, and it was upto Crowe to produce an innings of a lifetime to save the New Zealanders. Crowe smashed 29 boundaries and three sixes in his 610-minute innings, and was reasonably livid when a lapse of concentration cost him his 300th run. The match is also well-remembered for his then-world record stand of 467 with Andrew Jones (186).
3. 100 vs Australia, 1st match, Group Stage, 1992 World Cup
Co-hosts Australia and New Zealand clashed in the opening fixture at Auckland of the 1992 World Cup, with the Black Caps looking shaky at 53 for three after chosing to bat. The tournament could not have got off to a better start than Crowe, who was already a cricket hero in his country by then, smashing a century in front of his home crowd to snatch the game away from their Trans-tasman rivals.
The match essentially summed up the performances of both New Zealand and Australia in that mega-event — one would reach the semi-finals in a dream run, while the other would crash out of the tournament in the group stage.
4. 91 vs Pakistan, 1st Semi-final, 1992 World Cup
The New Zealand team were taking massive strides from the late 1980’s onwards, and winning the 1992 World Cup — the possibility of which was strong given their superb performances in the group stage — would have been the icing on the cake.
Skipper Crowe, who had led his team brilliantly throughout the course of the tournament, led from the front as his 83-ball 91, laced with seven boundaries and three sixes, powered New Zealand to a then-competitive score of 262 for seven. His fast-paced knock was even more noteworthy as it came against an attack comprising of Wasim Akram, Imran Khan, Aaqib Javed and Mushtaq Ahmed.
Sadly for him and the Black Caps though, it was meant to be Imran Khan and the ‘cornered tigers’ day as Inzamam-ul-Haq (60) and Javed Miandad (57) stole the berth in the tournament final from them. While Pakistan went on to beat England in the final to lift the World Cup for the only time in their history, Crowe was awarded the ‘Player of the tournament’ award for his string of dominant performances as well as inspirational leadership. In a way, the 1992 World Cup was to Crowe what the 1999 and 2003 editions were to Lance Klusener and Sachin Tendulkar.
5. 142 vs England, 2nd Test, Lord’s, 1994
Crowe displayed touches of brilliance even as his career was slowly beginning to near its end. Crowe managed to achieve — twice —what the likes of Tendulkar and Ricky Ponting failed to throughout the course of their glorious careers — score a century at Lord’s. The 364-ball landmark knock was described by Crowe as his most satisfying.
“In terms of the way the innings was constructed, that was pretty much perfect. Every ball was played on its merits, by a player completely in control of his game,” England pacer Angus Fraser was quoted as praising Crowe for his knock according to a report on Stuff.co.nz. The knock helped New Zealand finish on a massive total of 476, although the England lower-order managed to deny the Black Caps a well-deserved win.
With input from agencies