Crowe was a genial, generous and warm-hearted man

A classical batsman guided by old values, Martin Crowe did not limit his thinking to conventional cricket.

Martin Crowe was a captain with a vision, a path-finder for many.   -  Getty Images

It was a typically blustery afternoon in Wellington. In what was summer time in this part of the world, woollens were out as icy winds lashed across the iconic Basin Reserve.

The year was 2002 and Sourav Ganguly and his men were practising at the lovely, open ground ahead of the first Test.

Even as one was following the Indian session, a big, instantly recognisable man with a pleasant visage turned around and said with a smile, “There isn’t much difference between the pitch and the outfield, is it not?”

Martin Crowe was referring to the lush green outfield and the grassy wicket where the threat of rampant Shane Bond loomed for the Indians.

Despite his greatness as a cricketer and the aura around him, Crowe could so easily break through barriers. He reached out to others, built bonds of friendship.

When Rahul Dravid, with sound back-foot play and impeccable judgment in the corridor, carved out a gem on the first day, Crowe was among the first to journey to the Press Box and say, “That was well played by Dravid mate. Great stuff in these conditions.”

Fast forward, 2014: We were at the Basin Reserve again. The Indian team, this time led by Mahendra Singh Dhoni, was in Wellington for the second Test of the series.

The countdown to the ICC ODI World Cup in 2015 had also commenced. To celebrate the occasion, New Zealand cricket invited Crowe and his merry men from the 1992 World Cup, who captivated as they rollicked their way into the semifinals, to the Test.

Twenty-two years on, Crowe and his men partied, sang, danced and lapped the ground before an audience that roared. Some memories never fade.

By now, Crowe was seriously ill but his face glowed and his laughter could still be heard across the room. Surrounded by his men for whom he was an eternal leader, he did not appear a man on borrowed time. He was still throbbing with life, still getting his message across, still making people happy.

That was my last image of Crowe as I boarded the flight in Wellington on my way back to India.

Crowe was a genial, generous, warm-hearted man who touched several lives.

Now, he is no more, consumed by a rare form of blood cancer, aged only 53. He had so much more to offer to the game, the men who played it and those who watched the sport.

He was not just New Zealand’s finest batsman but among the world’s best during his eventful career between 1982 and 1995. He was a majestic figure at the crease, standing tall and meeting the ball with timing, grace and finesse, in a manner so reminiscent of Greg Chappell.

His footwork was emphatic, and the transfer of weight while moving back or forward flawless. Balanced and poised with a diverse range of strokes, Crowe was a stylist.

He played in the era of the great quicks on lively tracks. Crowe took fast and furious men such as Malcolm Marshall, Michael Holding, Imran Khan, Wasim Akram, Waqar Younis and Craig McDermott in a manner that was both correct and fearless. The Kiwi’s belief in his ability was immense and his mental strength enhanced his technical attributes.

But then, Crowe was so much more than a game-changing batsman. He was a captain with a vision, a path-finder for many.

During New Zealand’s unforgettable run in the 1992 World Cup, Crowe’s decisions to use burly left-hander Mark Greatbatch as a pinch-hitting opener when field restrictions were in place and utilise Dipak Patel’s off-spin tellingly in the early overs altered the dynamics of one-day cricket.

These were gutsy ploys, backed as much by instinct as insight. Faced with tough decisions, Crowe never flinched.

A classical batsman guided by old values, he did not limit his thinking to conventional cricket.

A creator, he invented Cricket Max, a forerunner to Twenty20 cricket with slam-bang cricket, music and entertainment. This correspondent covered a India-New Zealand Cricket Max game in 2002 in Christchurch and looking back, the concept was way ahead of time.

In his later years, Crowe mentored cricketers, the most notable among them being Ross Taylor and Martin Guptill. He never failed to inspire and some of his interactions with Taylor and Guptill even when he, under excruciating pain, was battling for life are of the spirit-lifting kind.

There are certain deaths that hit you in the solar plexus. Crowe’s passing away is one such.

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