Trading cards for Martin Crowe (left) and Stephen Boock (courtesy: Nazim’s Cricket Page)
Trading cards for Martin Crowe (left) and Stephen Boock (courtesy: Nazim’s Cricket Page)

Stephen Boock, a one-of-his-kind character, was up to his antics again despite playing the fiercest pace attack in the world. Abhishek Mukherjee looks back at a Boockism, on April 10, 1985, that left even Martin Crowe, trying to save a Test against a trio of mean fast bowlers, in splits.

It is tough being a spinner in New Zealand, especially if you cannot bat, more so if there is a spinner (John Bracewell) who actually can bat. But Stephen Boock held his place in the side for 30 Tests in the 1980s, perhaps the only decade when New Zealand became a contender for the top spot in world cricket.

Boock’s 30 Tests got him only 74 wickets, but they came at 34.64, marginally inferior to Daniel Vettori’s 34.36. The average drops to 30.9 if one takes his only West Indies tour — the one in question — away.

But there was more to Boock than that. Boock was larger than life, and often left people in splits with his antics.

The most famous example of a Boockism probably happened at Auckland in 1988-89. Pakistan amassed 616 for 5, and poor Boock finished with figures of 70-10-229-1. However, he took it in his stride: he knelt down and kissed the pitch in mock celebration the moment the 200th run was scored off him. He did not stop there: he told Ewen Chatfield, who was bowling from the other end, that he had created a damp spot on the pitch for him to take advantage of.

When New Zealand toured Pakistan in 1984-85, their team coach from Lahore to Hyderabad was, for whatever reasons, equipped with a loudspeaker meant for announcements to the outside. Perhaps it had recently been used for some election campaign. Boock took control and kept announcing at the top of his voice: “Pakistan — this is God coming — repent, repent…”

When a rug shop at Karachi mentioned they had a thousand rugs, Boock made sure he saw every one of them.

Boock once lost a bet. He had to crawl along the aisle of an aircraft to the rear toilet. He pulled it off without the slightest hesitation or feeling of embarrassment.

He (and John Wright) bought a rubber snake in Australia and played pranks on the entire team. The management had to confiscate it after it managed to scare a member of the hotel housekeeping.

But for all his antics, Boock could not bat. He was heavily cheered when he scored 35 as night-watchman at Colombo in 1983-84, while in the Sydney Test of 1985-86 he batted for 137 minutes for 37, adding 124 for the last wicket with Bracewell.

Such scores were not common: that 37 remained his highest First-Class score. Of the 33 times he was dismissed in Test cricket, 10 were ducks and 13 more were below 5.

New Zealand had batted determinedly to save the first Test at Port-of-Spain. Richie Richardson scored a hundred at Bourda, five others hit the 40-run mark, and West Indies declared on 511 for 6.

Martin Crowe had walked out at 45 for 2 on Day Two. New Zealand were soon reduced to 98 for 4, and Boock sprang into action. Something needed to be done. He started sending reassuring notes to Crowe at drinks intervals.

Crowe and Jeremy Coney saw New Zealand to 230 for 4 by stumps, but both Coney and Richard Hadlee fell early next morning. Boock kept assuring Crowe. When the batsmen returned for lunch, Boock was waiting: “Don’t worry if these other idiots can’t hang in there with you. Just take your time. You can rely on me to keep an end up till you get to your century.”

The indomitable Crowe continued. It is not known whether Boock had managed to calm him down, but he batted beautifully against Michael Holding, Joel Garner, and Malcolm Marshall. Ian Smith got a gritty 53, helping Crowe add 143.

Then Lance Cairns was bowled by Holding, and Boock walked out, brimming of confidence. He took his guard and readied himself for Holding.

He was bowled first ball.

It was too much for Crowe, who sunk with laughter. The West Indians, presumably clueless about the goings-on, were left bemused.

Aftermath

New Zealand saved the Test. The support Boock had promised eventually came from Chatfield. Crowe was named Man of the Match for his brilliant 188.

West Indies blew New Zealand away for 94 at a lightning-quick Bridgetown pitch. Smith had batted grittily in the first two Tests, which had not gone down well with Marshall. “I’m gonna kill you in Barbados,” ran the threat. Marshall kept his word, hitting Smith all over his body. He still kept wickets, batted, retired, and returned again to prevent an innings defeat.

Boock had a decent outing with bat as well. He joined Coney at 149 for 7, with New Zealand still 93 away to make West Indies bat as well. He scored 22; but in typical Boock fashion, he sledged the West Indian fast bowlers while batting.

West Indies won by 10 wickets. Boock was dropped for the last Test, where Smith played and West Indies repeated the margin despite Jeff Crowe’s famous 112.

Brief scores:

West Indies 511 for 6 decl. (Desmond Haynes 90, Richie Richardson 185, Larry Gomes 53, Gus Logie 52, Jeff Dujon 60*) and 268 for 6 decl. (Gordon Greenidge 69, Richie Richardson 60) drew with New Zealand 440 (Martin Crowe 188, Jeremy Coney 73, Ian Smith 53; Malcolm Marshall 4 for 110, Michael Holding 3 for 89).

Man of the Match: Martin Crowe