In November last year, Phillip Hughes, one of Australia’s most promising and popular cricketers died after being struck by a ball in the neck while batting at the Sydney Cricket Ground. The death of the 25-year-old player plunged Australia and the wider cricketing world into a period of mourning. Led by the Australian prime minister, tributes poured in from all avenues, while the essence, relevance, and the meaning of the sport itself was pondered.
One particular tribute however stood out for its poignancy.
It came from across the Tasman, from Martin Crowe, one of New Zealand’s finest cricketers and a former test captain. Crowe had just learned just a few months back that he had suffered a relapse of his cancer – follicular lymphoma – two years after it was initially diagnosed and successfully treated.
In his regular column for a cricketing website, Crowe wrote a few days later:
“Whatever emotion I felt about my own plight subsided somewhat as the enormity of Hughes’ death sank in. I didn’t know him, and yet it had a great effect, as it rightly has had on many. I was left feeling I wanted to sit with him for a bit, to get some sense of his genuine passion for cricket and life.”
It was this passion for the game that epitomized the career of Martin Crowe.
Crowe was born to a gifted cricketing family in 1962, with both his father Dave and elder brother Jeff having played for New Zealand. (Actor Russell Crowe is a cousin.) He represented the country between 1982 and 1995, featuring in 77 tests and 143 One Day Internationals.
Admired for the style and elegance of his batting technique, particularly for his quick footwork and an exquisite straight drive, Crowe became widely regarded as the best batsman New Zealand ever produced.
In 1991, he scored 299 in a test match held in Wellington against Sri Lanka, setting the record for the highest individual score by a New Zealand batsman. It stood for more than two decades before Brendon McCullum’s brilliant triple century last year. Crowe was named the Wisden Cricketer of the Year in 1985.
However, Crowe won equal acclaim for his innovative captaincy, which took New Zealand painfully close to triumph in the 1992 Cricket World Cup.
When Daniel Vettori was introduced to bowl early on in the Australian innings last week and turned the game, McCullum was simply using a tactic revolutionized by Crowe in 1992, when he opted to open the bowling with Dipak Patel.
His decision not to field, instead deciding to rest a torn hamstring in the semi-final defeat by eventual champions Pakistan led by the inspirational Imran Khan haunted Crowe, as did not scoring the one run that would have made resulted in New Zealand’s first triple century.
He later spoke of the depression that followed and how McCullum’s innings simply helped him to “let go.”
After Hughes’s death, Crowe called on the players to make cricket a “kinder, gentler game” stating:
“Gradually it should become less critical to win at all costs. We should smile when stumps are drawn and be grateful for the day’s cricket, the genuine sharing of camaraderie between two teams. We can calm this game down by playing with more joy within, the kind one impressive Phillip Hughes showed. In that, he displayed sageness rare in one so raw, a mature hand and an old head, showing us what we need to do.”
At the end of February, Martin Crowe was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame. But perhaps heeding his words would be the ultimate tribute for a man who has given so much to the game.
Kiran Mohandas Menon is an independent researcher from India. His articles have been featured in various international publications.