Martin Crowe, former New Zealand captain and player of the ICC Cricket World Cup 1992, is inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame
Martin Crowe, former New Zealand captain was inducted into the ICC Cricket Hall of Fame during the ICC World Cup 2015. It was one of his last public appearances © Getty Images

March 3, 2016. After a long battle with cancer, Martin Crowe departed this world for the next. Arunabha Sengupta pays tribute to the great Kiwi batsman.

More than two decades.

More than two decades have passed since the Duncan Fearnley Magnum blade struck the last boundary and was raised to acknowledge the delighted cheers.

More than two decades since elegance and class mingled together to result in one of the most aesthetically acts of batsmanship.

More than two decades since that trademark white helmet was taken off for the last time.

And the infectiously youthful curls under the headgear?

Battles with time and the most devastating of illnesses had totally shorn him of one of his most defining features.  Follicular lymphoma and subsequent chemotherapy does that to you. Long before the end of his days, Martin Crowe had gone bald.

Ironically, the man who had almost an eternity to essay his drives and cuts was severely short of time in his own life.

Yet, as he departs for the land where no bails are ever drawn, all of us fortunate enough to have seen him bat remember his cricket. And we remember the man.

We remember his broad bat, his majestic knocks. His duels with the fire-breathing West Indian bowlers, and then the yorker-hurtling Pakistani pacemen.

We remember the substance that seamlessly merged with style, the effortlessly timed drives through cover and past the unbelieving bowler, the cordon piercing cuts and fearless pulls.

We remember the marathon sprint from mid-on and the lunge that ended in the incredible catch to dismiss David Houghton. We remember the astute move of opening the bowling with Dipak Patel, and the wise guidance propelling Mark Greatbatch to launch into murderous assaults at the top of the order.

And yes, as I said, we also remember the man.

The 19-year-old who arrived from a land of precious few cricketing heroes, with the apparent backing of destiny to stamp his greatness on the game.

We remember the heroic way he stepped into the giant shoes of Viv Richards for Somerset, his straight-driving Andy Roberts for six and belting him for 188.

We remember him batting with elder brother Jeff, confusing onlookers with their resemblance and their prank of exchanging helmets.

We also remember other things, pleasant and not so pleasant.

Those innocent curls that fell away in his battle against time and cancer. His struggle against salmonella. His incessant wrestling match with his own demons. His often overwhelming quest for perfection. His showdowns with the management, the media and, later, his employers.

His outrageous query at a press conference that left the seasoned journalists at a loss for words — ‘do you think I am homosexual?’

Much later, his burning of his own blazer over the sacking of Ross Taylor as captain.

Crowe was not just one of the greatest batsmen of his times. He was a human being with very human emotions. He did not hold them back.

He was indeed a pillar of the New Zealand side of the 80s and 90s, in their transition from an also ran into a major force to be reckoned with. Along with Richard Hadlee, Crowe brought the glitter of superstardom in an otherwise faceless team of useful but glamour-less cricketers.

Hitching up with Darryl Campbell, he indeed revolutionised the art and science of contracts and endorsements for a Kiwi cricketer.

He was indeed one of the most innovative and incisive analysts to have graced the game. It was apparent in his captaincy, his ideas and later in some of the best cricket writing produced in modern times.

Cricket Max preceded Twenty20 cricket, and his ideas surrounding a knockout Test cricket tournament are yet to be tested.

And yes, Crowe was one of the best writers the game has been graced with, although the fact may be lost in this current world of clickbait-reportage. Among the plethora of ex-cricketers of varying degrees of accomplishment and analytical ability, thrusting their views onto the world through print and microphone, Crowe’s was a sane and often prophetic voice that rang through loud, clear and meaningful amidst all the sound and fury that vociferously signify nothing at high pitch and incredible decibel levels.

Characteristically, his Out on a Limb was one of the best-written cricket autobiographies, frank, fearless and eloquent. He revealed secrets, and never pulled a punch. Predictably enough, following the trend of similar superb cricket books from New Zealand, it remains underrated and unknown.

With bat he was almost unparalleled in his day. With time his monumental deeds have been matched and eclipsed, but his aura has not been tarnished.

The aggregate of 5,444 runs from 77 Tests is no longer the highest for New Zealand, but the curiously visually similar 544 from 7 Tests against the West Indies in all their pomp and glory have seldom been matched for guts and grandeur. He scored 3 hundreds in those 7 Tests, and did not face anything but the very best of West Indians — no Packer-depleted side for him.

The 467 he added with Andrew Jones has been bettered by Sri Lankan pairs, twice. Sanath Jayasuriya and Roshan Mahanama added 576 for the second wicket and then Kumar Sangakkara and Mahela Jayawardene the ridiculous 624 for third.

Brendon McCullum inched past his 299 when he collared the Indians for that incredible 302 in 2014. That 299. The single run that remained elusive, that stopped him from becoming the first ever Kiwi batsman to score a triple hundred, that caused Crowe more pain than the satisfaction from a massive innings. On his way back to the pavilion after Hashan Tillakaratne had held the catch, Crowe had smashed a sign, hit a fire hose with his bat and then hurled his willow skyward on reaching the dressing room.  “It’s not fair, the bloody game,” he had screamed while tears had streamed down his face. That dismissal haunted Crowe till the very end of his days. ALSO READ: O Martin, my Martin Crowe, long ago…

As I said, he was very human. And he was not afraid to come across as one.

Forget all the ‘selfless cricket’ and ‘team versus individual’ pontification meant for people who have never held a bat in their lives. This is how sportsmen gear themselves for the pinnacle of achievements. The road to the top is a lonely one and the trek is fuelled by ambition. Crowe had almost got to an exclusive peak, and slipping near the top was painful. And unlike many of the cricketers from the greater cricketing country neighbouring his, he was not shy of documenting his disappointment in poignant terms. ALSO READ: Martin Crowe: The man cricket never caught up with

His 17 centuries still stand as the highest for New Zealand. However, Kane Williamson is closing in, and Ross Taylor may also have a few more hundreds in him.

But amidst all these feats, he was plagued by his own pledge. The last words of his autobiography reads, “Be the best you can be, always.” He tried to follow that dictum, and his quest for perfection proved an obsession. Even while coasting on the high crest of form and performance, he was seldom satisfied. Often, he was troubled. Yes, again, he was very human.

Nevertheless, he had plenty to be satisfied with in his career. The last page of his autobiography also says, “I feel good about what I have done and that makes me think I can continue to live happily in this wonderful country of New Zealand.”

Yes, no one would dispute that he had done enough for a long and happy life. Unfortunately, fate demurred and made it a short one, and one full of struggle.

But, while brief, Crowe’s was an incredible life. A life full of achievements and conflict, of doubts, despair and diligence, of extraordinary talent and very human reactions, of magical highs and a tragic end. A life worth living.

(Arunabha Sengupta is a cricket historian and Chief Cricket Writer at CricketCountry. He writes about the history of cricket, with occasional statistical pieces and reflections on the modern game. He is also the author of four novels, the most recent being Sherlock Holmes and the Birth of The Ashes. He tweets here.)