Greg Bruce: My childhood - all about Martin and me

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In 1987, when I was 10, there was nothing in the world I wanted more than to meet Martin Crowe, and there he was, across a crowded signing table outside the Highland Park bookshop for the launch of his new book, The Crowe Style.

I almost couldn't believe it was happening. I remember staring into his eyes, paralysed by joy, while he spoke real words to me, or maybe just the one - "Hello" - and then waiting for him to sign his beautiful signature in the book that I would then be able to keep in my house and treasure forever.

Everything he did was beautiful. He was a beautiful man. My grandmother once said of him, "He could put his slippers under my bed anytime."

On the cover of The Crowe Style, there is a photo of him in the deep follow through of his off-drive, the second most beautiful shot in New Zealand cricket history, behind his cover drive. Possibly the shot was posed for the book, but, if so, it was unnecessary posing. It could never have been posed more beautifully than it was played in the middle at Lords, the MCG, Eden Park.

He walked with a preposterous rolling swagger that spoke so clearly of his physical gifts that it could have been mistaken for arrogance. Who knows? Maybe it was arrogance. I didn't care. I emulated that walk as much as possible in my childhood home, driving my older brother crazy.

The Crowe Style was to have been a present for my dad, but I don't think he ever read it. I read it and read it and read it. I was fascinated by every detail of Crowe's life. He liked to eat satay with peanut sauce, a dish I'd never heard of. He talked about wine. I couldn't believe his sophistication.

Martin often spoke fondly of his brother in the book: "Jeff's stance is all but perfect," he wrote at one point. "I am glad I have copied it."

Alongside the text were a pair of photos of the brothers' batting stances. They were both relaxed, easy and balanced, but they weren't the same. There was something in Martin's that made you want to look at it, that drew your eye inexorably away from his talented older brother. What is the difference between good and great?

There was also coiled menace in that stance. Martin Crowe could be an angry cricketer. When he twisted to play the pull shot, it was like he was ripping a scab off some past grievance, of which he later admitted to having many.

Maybe cricket was cathartic for him, an outlet for getting rid of all those grievances. Maybe it was cricket that was responsible for most of them. Nothing is all good or all bad.

Crowe wrote about how he loved to spend time with young fans, but he didn't like it when they were disrespectful. I became fixated on that part of the book. I fantasised about meeting him again and showing him that I was one of the most respectful kids around.

Maybe he would mentor me, offer me cricket lessons, make me satay with peanut sauce. I knew these things were impossible, but a child's love doesn't care about impossibilities.

In the book's tutorial section, there was a bit about watching the bowler's hand. It's human nature to look at the bowler's face, his hair, his eyes, Crowe wrote, but you must look at his hand.

This line taught me something about cricket, but it also taught me something about human nature.

Crowe was always a thinker. His emotional, surgical analysis of New Zealand's loss to Pakistan during the 1992 World Cup, at which he changed the way one-day cricket was played, was one of the most incredible pieces of sports writing ever published in this country.

As I moved into my teens, my relationship with Crowe inevitably changed. Gradually, I stopped loving him with that uncomplicated love of childhood.

Instead, I grew to appreciate him for the beauty of his play and eventually for that brilliant mind and its insights into the game. That is the inevitable progression of life.

For a batsman, each innings is a little life and each dismissal a little death - a small ending on the way to the moment when they will never again walk to the crease.

Often I ran home from school in the hope of seeing Crowe building one of his long, beautiful innings in a test. I grieved each time one ended and I yearned for the start of the next. Now, there will be no more.

- NZ Herald

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