[dropcap]M[/dropcap]artin Crowe, who has died aged 53 of cancer, was not just one of New Zealand’s greatest ever cricketers, but one of the most elegant batsmen the world has yet seen. A teenage prodigy who made his international debut at 19, he played 77 Tests – 16 of them as captain – between 1982 and 1995, and was the second highest run scorer in New Zealand Test history, with 5,444 runs at an average of 45.36. At the 1992 World Cup, which New Zealand co-hosted with Australia, Crowe was named the player of the tournament, and led his team to a semi-final. By the time he finished his international career in 1995, he held the records for the most Test and One Day International (ODI) runs scored for New Zealand. Along with Richard Hadlee, Crowe took New Zealand cricket to fantastic heights.
After retiring Crowe became a commentator for Sky TV and an executive producer for Sky cricket coverage in New Zealand. He joined the board of the South Sydney Rabbitohs rugby league club in Australia, which his cousin, the actor Russell Crowe, part-owned, and came up with the idea of Cricket Max, a three-hour version of the game that never quite caught on but laid the foundations for Twenty20. He had a short spell as chief executive of the Royal Challengers Bangalore cricket team in the Indian Premier League.
A 2012 article by Mark Nicholas described him as “upright, orthodox and immensely strong” at the wicket, and praised the “speed and grace of the footwork” and “perfect head position”. Nicholas thought the elegance of Crowe’s batting was at odds with his physical size – he was “a big man in a small man’s game”. Writing in his retirement, Crowe emphasised the importance of instinct in batting, and the need to avoid premeditating a shot.
During his early career, Crowe was also often used as a “bits and pieces bowler”, with his “lively in-swingers” faring especially well in English conditions. He was regarded as an “outstanding” fieldsman, and against Zimbabwe in the 1987 World Cup dismissed David Houghton with an outstretched diving catch that was said to have won New Zealand the game. As captain, Crowe was known for his use of innovative techniques, most notably opening the bowling with a spinner, Dipak Patel, at the 1992 World Cup. He often had highly developed bowling and fielding plans, regularly rotating his bowlers and changing his fields to put pressure on opposing batsmen. Former Pakistan captain Rameez Raja described Crowe as “an imaginative leader who maximised his team’s potential and resources by thoughtful captaincy and out-of-the-box tactics.”
He was diagnosed with Lymphoma in 2011, which he later on claimed to be free from, but ultimately it led to his death. In 2009 he married the former Miss Universe, Lorraine Downes. She survives him, as do his mother Audrey, siblings Jeff and Debbie, his daughter Emma from a previous relationship with Huhaana Marshall, and Lorraine’s children, Hilton and Jasmine.
Long live the resilience of Martin Crowe.