A player of flair and courage

S. DINAKAR

HE went out in a blaze of glory. Yet, did he have to leave the scene at all?

Adam Parore was a 'keeper who stayed low, being comfortable against both pace and spin.-V. V. KRISHNAN

The question on everybody's lips was - why now Adam? It had been an eventful yet turbulent career and could well have continued; given his fitness levels, 31 years sat lightly on him.

But then, Adam Parore has this habit of silencing critics and surprising people. He had made up his mind and it was time to say goodbye.

The fact that he was being constantly overlooked for the ODIs would not have pleased this proud Kiwi. Parore's inconsistent form with the willow in recent times was held against him though he could still handle pressure situations better than most.

He was not the 'predictable' kind and perhaps it was his Maori blood that led him to be different. Apart from being a player of flair and courage, he was one of the 'characters' in the game.

It would not be uncommon to bump into him at the hotel lobby at virtually any time of the day and find him either preparing or returning from a jog. He loved to run long distances and strove to keep himself in shape.

He was also the hyperactive, restless type. It would be almost impossible to find him standing quietly in a corner. Instead, Parore would be moving his arms and legs just that little bit. The fitness freak in action again!

Indeed, stories of Parore's extraordinary fitness regimens and extreme mood swings abound; he could be friendly one moment, look through you the next!

Parore was a bit of a firebrand as well, seldom reluctant to speak his mind. There were occasions when he took on the powers that be and his face-off with former New Zealand captain and coach Glenn Turner is only too well known.

The mid-90s was indeed a troubled phase for Parore and the wicket-keeper batsman, following differences with Turner and the team-management, flew back from the tour of the West Indies in 1996.

That was certainly a crisis point in his career and given his tendency to be guided by instinct, Parore must have come desperately close to calling it a day. Mercifully, he decided against a hasty decision.

He was strong-willed man with a passion for the game that reached out beyond numbers. Parore was someone extremely conscious of his performances against the better equipped sides. "The others do not count," he once said.

Yet, it was a number that dominated his thoughts even as he entered the ground for his final match - dismissal No. 200 that would make him only the eighth wicket-keeper in Test history and the first New Zealander to achieve the feat.

Parore was tantalisingly perched near the 200-mark going into the third Test against England at Auckland, and having announced his intention to bid adieu, the pressure was on him to reach the milestone.

He was successful and New Zealand bounced back to level the three-Test series. It also marked a magnificent end to Parore's journey in international cricket.

After that dramatic Test that saw New Zealand finishing the home season on a high, Parore reflected on his milestone. "The idea of reaching the 200 club messed up my head quite badly for a few weeks because it meant a lot to me. It's a huge honour to be included in the list because these guys have been my heroes since I was a little kid. To join them is great, probably the biggest moment of my career."

Beginning his career for New Zealand in the early 90s - he was an understudy to the efficient and hard-hitting Ian Smith - Parore's Test debut at Edgbaston in '90 was in a match of great significance - it was Sir Richard Hadlee's last Test.

He was just over 19, and it took a while for Parore to establish himself in the New Zealand side with Ian Smith being the No.1 man. And just as Parore was preparing to take over from the now retired Smith in the 1992-93 season, a nasty injury in the nets when he was struck above the left eye by a Chris Cairns lifter, dented his immediate plans.

Parore then had to endure a frustrating period as Tony Blain grabbed the opportunity with both hands and it was only after a year that he finally managed to break into the side again. He did not take long to make his mark.

Indeed, in Parore, New Zealand discovered a 'keeper, who stayed low, was comfortable against both pace and spin, and a batsman who loved the sniff of a battle. In fact, such was Parore's value with the bat that he averaged close to 40 in both forms of the game in the early stages of his career, batting straight and driving fluently on either side of the wicket.

So much so that under the Glenn Turner regime, when Lee Germon, a wicket-keeper batsman, was unexpectedly elevated as captain in the mid-90s, Parore made the side as a specialist batsman.

Germon was reputed to be a good thinker of the game, and was a technically sound 'keeper, but his ability with the bat was not above ordinary. In fact, fielding both Parore and Germon in the eleven meant the balance of the side was compromised on. One of the two had to give in at some stage.

Not surprisingly, Germon was displaced as captain which naturally meant he couldn't now hold a place with Parore around. And with Steve Rixon replacing Turner in a year of sweeping changes in the New Zealand cricket set-up, Parore could look forward to an 'untroubled run.'

He did have his moments before that day in Auckland when his team-mates gave him a memorable send-off. In 78 Tests, Parore made 2865 runs at 26.28 that included two hundreds and 14 half centuries, apart from over 200 dismissals. It can be clearly seen here that his batting suffered during the later years, though he could always conjure the 'odd gem.'

His two three-figure knocks reveal his potential. A 100 not out against a West Indies attack possessing Courtney Walsh and Curtly Ambrose, and a 110 countering the feared Aussie bowlers in Perth last November. Like in Tests, Parore now holds the New Zealand record for a wicket-keeper in ODIs-116 catches and 25 stumpings in 179 games. He was not averse to gamesmanship, and did have the knack of getting under the skin of his opponents.

Parore figured in two World Cups, and his typically spunky innings in a critical situation against India in a vital last Super Six clash in '99, ensured New Zealand a place in the last four. He was the 'never-say-die' sort.

His retirement evoked tributes from the establishment, belying his reputation as the 'bad boy'. Said Martin Snedden, NZC chief executive - "Adam has served his country over a 12-year period at the highest level... Adam is a gifted player who has worked hard at his game and fitness. His athleticism and natural instinct as a gloveman have been outstanding features of his game."

Parore might have drifted into an early sunset, yet, he went out in the right way - in a blaze of glory.