Jeremy Wells

Jeremy Wells on cricket

Jeremy Wells: Remembering the man in the Panama hat

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Martin Crowe batting for New Zealand.  Photo / Getty Images
Martin Crowe batting for New Zealand. Photo / Getty Images

I was humbled by the overwhelmingly positive public response to last week's gentle stroll down Commonsense Lane.

Russell Brown wrote: "About time someone started writing honestly and fairly. Look forward to reading next week's pile of rubbish."

Bruce of Blenheim wrote: "Loved the column about Hadlee's video. Any idea where I can get a copy?"

Sadly Bruce, Richard Hadlee - The New Zealand Story is no longer available in shops, but I'm prepared to swap my copy for a ceramic Richard Hadlee Jim Beam bottle.

Surprisingly, some people were keen to prove their own cricket knowledge. Geoff Wright asked: "Do you remember when Martin Crowe wore a Panama hat batting against Australia?"

Interesting question, Geoff. The answer is yes. It was 1988 and cricket clothing had swung from the free and easy, button-down styles of the 70s to the tighter, more fitting fashions of the 80s.

Somewhere in the sartorial stream, swimming against the current, was our own snazzy salmon, MD Crowe.

Looking back, I realise Crowe's penchant for obtuse ornamentation was another thing that set him apart from his peers. He was the first player to saw the top bar of his helmet grill off to aid vision (a move copied by many schoolboy cricketers) and was an early adopter of new-age sweat absorption technology - embracing Mark Knopfler-style towelling headbands years before the first drop of Jack Daniel's No 7 had passed through Jesse Ryder's lips.

And, of course, the piece de resistance - the Panama hat in two tone beige and white.

As a fashion statement it was bold, but as a functional piece of cricketing headwear it was without equal. The Panama hat's brim provided superior shade - while its lightweight mesh construction made for greater air circulation in hot temperatures.

A lot of people can say where they were when they heard about important events in history. While I can't tell you where I was when Princess Diana died, I can tell you that I was at Ryan Coyle's house when Crowe swaggered on to the WACA during the summer of 1987/88 wearing that hat.

Did the Panama help his batting? Hard to say really. Although the stats suggest it did. Crowe was our best batsman in the series, averaging 66.

Interestingly, the only other New Zealand batsman who dared don a Panama hat was the great Andrew Jones who had the next highest average of the series, 53.

When I close my eyes on lonely nights at home, I can still see Jones tapping his bat mid-stance before leaping back and across, timing anything slightly short and wide behind point for four. In his hands, a Symonds Super Tusker. On his head, a short-brimmed Panama or, against faster bowling, a grill-less white helmet with elongated ear guards.

One question remains: Why wasn't the Panama formally embraced by New Zealand Cricket as a compulsory non-helmet option? It is possible the style didn't translate well to New Zealand conditions but there's no cricketing reason why it wasn't used in the Caribbean or the subcontinent - places with similar meteorological conditions to Australia.

It upsets me to think that these Panamas sat out their most productive run-making years idle in a bag somewhere, silently wondering why they were dropped in their prime.

The untimely demise of the Panama sits on the mantle (along with Grahame Thorne's perm and Bryan Young's predilection for putting the ball in his pocket after he'd taken a catch) as one of the nation's great sporting mysteries.

Maybe John Buchanan needs to worry less about shot selection and more on hat selection. The Panama worked for Crowe and Jones - it could benefit Williamson and Taylor, too.

- NZ Herald

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