martin-crowe-batting
Martin Crowe goes airborne as he cuts a ball towards the boundary during Day Five of the 4th Cornhill Test between England and New Zealand at the Oval in 1983 @ Getty Images

The news of Martin Crowe’s death did not come as a shock. We all knew it was a matter of time. During the final of ICC Cricket World Cup 2015, Crowe had himself expressed doubts if he would live to see another final. All he wished was a New Zealand win. Yet again, that did not happen, but Brendon McCullum and his men made their childhood hero proud by putting up a solid performance.

March 3, 2016, Mumbai, I did not wake by the tell-tale setting off of the alarm, but by innumerable Twitter notifications on my cell phone. I did not have read beyond the words ‘Martin Crowe’ on my screen to realise that the inevitable moment has arrived. I could sense a feeling of grief, nostalgia and I reflected on all the glorious moments of one of my first cricket heroes.

Breaking the news to my dad, who was getting ready for office, his instant reaction was, “Oh! He must not be more than 55. What a player!” “Yes, 53,” I replied; there was sadness in the silence that followed.

There will be many obituaries focusing on his grit, his graceful cover-drives and his leadership. But this is about a young boy who was more fascinated by Disney and He-Man. My dad had tried his best to introduce me to cricket but in vain. My first memory of Crowe, again thanks to my dad, was about him exaggerating about Crowe’s 299 at Basin Reserve. We had a huge poster of all nine Cricket World Cup 1992 teams seated and posing on a ferry with Sydney’s Opera House in the backdrop. A child of six, I listened carefully to him as he introduced me to Crowe, Allan Border, David Boon, Merv Hughes, Graham Gooch, Allan Donald and few others.

He made me understand the significance of patience when he mentioned that just over a year back Crowe scored 299 in an innings (how on earth does one person score that many?). I heard in disbelief. Only in 1994 after Brian Lara’s 375, I knew batsmen have also scored triple-tons in Test cricket, but you got to pardon the six-year-old here. ALSO READ: Martin Crowe: The man cricket never caught up with

Crowe was my hero and since then. I keenly followed his career. I have faint memories of his 100 not out, scored on a difficult Eden Park track in the tournament opener. I regard it as one of the finest performances in a World Cup. I did not know about the Australia-New Zealand rivalry back then, but Crowe’s heroics made me fall for a nation which did not enjoy a massive fan support.

Throughout the tournament, I enjoyed the sceneries in both Australia and New Zealand, and longed to visit them. But for Crowe and his batting ( I was too young to judge his leadership), I was more biased towards New Zealand, a nation I went on to live in the later 2000s.

Crowe’s feats in the World Cup have found a place in cricketing folklores. The fact that he was named Man of the Series stands testimony to the fact on what impact he had. In the semi-final, Crowe had done enough with his inspiring 91 at Auckland to ensure New Zealand’s patch to final, the ultimate dream for Kiwis and their fans, until a Pakistani giant called Inzamam-ul-Haq shattered them to pieces when he bulldozed a match-defining 60 from 37 balls. A rare spectacle on those days. It was ironic that Crowe passed away on the 46th birthday of Inzamam. ALSO READ: O Martin, my Martin Crowe, long ago…

It was heartbreaking but he had ignited the spark of the New Zealand fan in me.  I would wake up early in the morning to even watch a Bryan Young bat. I followed Lee Germon’s career. My geography was better than most (I could point out Mt Cook on the map and knew which part Auckland, Wellington and Christchurch were); and all that was because of that one man who always batted in a white helmet.

Infographics by Suvajit Mustafi | Designed by Srushti Takale
Infographics by Suvajit Mustafi | Designed by Srushti Takale

World has seen multitalented individuals. There may be a good actor who also sings well or directs, but usually it is one discipline that he or she excels in and rest are supplementary. Not often, you admire the same person for multiple reasons but Crowe was special. The Crowe-incepted Cricket Max may not have been a huge hit but it can easily be termed as the forerunner of Twenty20 cricket. Crowe was a man much ahead of his time and he found a fan in me for his innovative thoughts. Later on, reading his columns were nothing less than a delight. READ: Russell Crowe, Sachin Tendulkar, Virat Kohli and other luminaries pay tribute to Martin Crowe

During my stay in New Zealand, I had planned a project on covering India’s tour of New Zealand in 2009. My dean did not permit me due to the strict attendance rules but my proposal had an interview with ‘Martin Crowe’. I had to. The project did not happen but it was around the same time the news of his wedding with former Miss Universe Lorraine Downes made headlines in the country.

From cancer to comeback bid in First-Class cricket, Crowe is one of the cricketers I followed closely. Years on, I have made a career, writing and analysing for this wonderful sport and during my introduction to it, Crowe was one of the first outside India cricketers I knew of and became a fan.

Crowe remained a part parallel to this journey.

To one of my first cricket heroes. Thank you and rest in peace.

(Suvajit Mustafi consumes cricket for lunch, fiction for dinner and munches numerous other snacks throughout the day. Yes, a jack of several trades, all Suvajit dreamt of was being India’s World Cup winning skipper but ended up being a sports writer, author, screenwriter, director, copywriter, graphic designer, sports marketer , strategist, entrepreneur,  philosopher and traveller. Donning so many hats, it’s cricket which gives him the ultimate high and where he finds solace. He can be followed at @RibsGully and rivu7)