Before the 1992 World Cup, Mark Greatbatch was known for launching rescue acts when New Zealand found themselves in dire-straits in Test cricket. But suddenly in the 1992 World Cup, he became a basher of bowlers and left fielders in a state of trance. Bharath Ramaraj has more…
On March 21 1992, the once mighty West Indies team took on a New Zealand side in the World Cup that was on a roll after sending shock waves through the cricketing community by thumping fancied opponents. In that game, one of the success stories for New Zealand, the left-handed opening batsman, Mark Greatbatch was about to take strike to the towering giant from the West Indies — Curtly Ambrose. In the next few minutes, he left everyone gasping for breath by virtually treating a fine Windies attack with utter-disdain that bordered on sheer arrogance.
When the king of fast bowling, Malcolm Marshall was flicked for a six, followed by Greatbatch dancing down the wicket to send the ball deep into the orbit at the speed of lightning, Marshall seemed to be in a state of complete befuddlement. Throughout the 1992 World Cup, Greatbatch went hammer and tongs at opposition attacks, and was one of the key reasons why New Zealand reached the semi-final of the tournament.
Greatbatch, born on December 11 1963 had made quite a reputation for his uncanny ability to play stoic innings and help New Zealand to reach safe waters in Test cricket. But just like a nuclear warhead being unleashed on another country, New Zealand’s the then captain Martin Crowe and coach Warren Lees, unleashed their trump card Greatbatch on shell-shocked bowlers in the 1992 World Cup.
If we track back the pages in Greatbatch’s career, just like many other cricketers from the Island, the Auckland born dasher was a late bloomer. He caught the eye of the selectors only when he made a significant impact on New Zealand’s domestic scene in 1986-87 by averaging 45.4 and accruing 681 runs. In one of the First-Class games, his dash of bravery and stoicism took the Kiwis to a position of strength, from where they could dictate terms against the Central Districts. Those days, he was a long way from being a power-hitter who sent the ball rocketing to the boundary boards.
Greatbatch soon made his Test debut against England in the 1987-88 season. In his very first Test, coming into bat at No 6 with valour and a solitary, single minded focus, he handled everything that the English bowling attack threw at him with dogged determination to essay a century on his debut. He must have felt like playing a game of cricket was akin to listening to a fantasy story.
A few years later, on the trampoline wicket at Western Australia Cricket Ground (WACA), he frustrated the Australian bowling line-up to death, and calmed the tangle of nerves in the New Zealand dressing room with his hundred. It took him well over 10 hours and 485 balls to score 146 not out. The swing-merchant, Terry Alderman and the lion-hearted paceman Merv Hughes tried every little track in the trade, but to no avail. The mustachioed batsman might have sent the WACA crowd into a snooze-fest. However, he would certainly have been the toast of New Zealand’s cricket team that night.
So, that is why it sent seismic shocks in the cricketing circles when his blitzkrieg in 1992 World Cup floored bowlers into submission. Curiously, he didn’t play either of New Zealand’s first two games against defending champions, Australia and Sri Lanka. It was in the third match against South Africa that New Zealand unleashed their secret weapon – Greatbatch. Those mighty wallops of Brian MacMillan, Richard Snell and Tertius Bosch square of the wicket on either side was like a breath of fresh air to cricket lovers. Suddenly, the stroke-less wonder had turned into heavy artillery that haunted captains and left them in a state of trance. He virtually bulldozed the much-vaunted South African pace-attack that day.
Curiously, once New Zealand lost that heart-breaking semi-final against Pakistan in the 1992 World Cup, Greatbatch was never the same player again. Yes, he occasionally touched dizzying heights. Who can forget his incandescent century against Pakistan at Hamilton against Waqar Younis and Wasim Akram in their pomp. Yet, he rarely touched those glorious peaks of 1992 World Cup.
Greatbatch in 1993 also had to go through the horrific experience of being in the midst of a bomb exploding on the streets of Colombo during New Zealand’s tour of Sri Lanka. Wisden reported as saying, “The tourists saw the horrific results at first hand. Dismembered bodies were strewn over the blood-stained street; even the balconies and walls of the hotel were stained with human debris. Many of the players went into shock.” Martin Crowe, the New Zealand captain, said: “It was what you would imagine you might see in a war.” Rutherford ventured downstairs two hours later to witness officials with two-metre long sticks picking “bits of scalp and innards off fences and pavements.” Finally, Greatbatch and four other New Zealand cricketers quit the tour and went back home.
By 1996, it was crystal clear that New Zealand’s think-tank was looking for younger players to come through the ranks and as a result, Greatbatch played his last international game in Pakistan in ‘96. He didn’t even get a chance to wield his willow, as New Zealand won the game against Pakistan by seven wickets, with Greatbatch being slated to bat at only No 6.
Since retiring from the game, he has served as the director of Warwickshire’s County team and has held others positions like being the advisor to New Zealand’s selection panel, and also as the head coach of New Zealand.
Mark Greatbatch was basically a defensive batsman who with a ‘never say die’ attitude made the bowlers bowl to him in Test cricket. But he will be forever remembered for his sparkling and thrill-a-minute knocks during the 1992 World Cup.
(Bharath Ramaraj, an MBA in marketing, eats, drinks and sleeps cricket. He has played at school and college-level, and now channelises his passion for the game by writing about it)
Also on cricketcountry.com