Cricket: Legend serious about his role but loved a good prank

By David Leggat

Two specific and distinctly contrasting memories stick in this mind of Martin Crowe.

They don't involve the wondrous on drive, the quick footed pull or technically perfect cover drive, shots which were the hallmarks of New Zealand's finest batsman when in his pomp.

They don't involve the bravery which characterised his batting at important points, such as when facing down the fearsome West Indies pace barrage in the 1980s.

Rather they go to the personality of the man.

Listen: Touching music sync tribute to Martin Crowe

It's 1987, October and the World Cup in India and Pakistan. New Zealand are camped in Hyderabad ahead of their opening match against Zimbabwe at the old Lal Bahadur Stadium. Time dragged waiting for game day.

Sitting in my hotel room I phoned the switchboard to get a call put through to my office. No joy.

A second try and a voice says "yes?".

There ensued a conversation comprising exasperation from the New Zealand voice at not being able to get across the relevant information, blended with confusion at the switchboard end about what this fellow with a funny accent was wanting to do.

Cue two minutes of rising temperatures as the operator kept repeating "where is Wellington. What is your name. Mr Leg Butt?"

Close, but no cigar, sport. Just as a phone was about to get ripped out of a wall, gales of laughter came down the line. The operator was M. D. Crowe, one floor up.

Somehow, in dialling 1 for the operator, it rang in Crowe's room. Quick as a flash he sensed an opportunity, dropped into Indian hotel operator mode and pulled it off perfectly. That gag lasted a while.

Go forward two months. It's Melbourne and midway through the third and final test in December.

New Zealand are a day away from being dudded by umpire Dick French, who rejected Danny Morrison's impassioned plea for an lbw decision against Craig McDermott which would have given New Zealand victory and a shared series. French was two-thirds right - the ball would have missed both leg and off stumps.

Crowe scored 82 and 79, had two centuries in his sights but came up short.

But it had been enough to take him past 4000 first class runs for the calendar year. He was the first player to that mark in 40 years and fewer than 10 batsmen had ever achieved the feat.

The media gathered at New Zealand's hotel.

Crowe arrived, clearly angry and unwilling to talk. One senior New Zealand reporter, who had had dealings with Crowe over time, took him aside. Talk for two minutes and then it's done, was the gist of his suggestion. Crowe pondered, then walked across to the group.

Having grilled one Australian writer on what it was he'd done and its significance - the writer fortunately knew the names of all to have gone before Crowe - he relented and started talking.

You could not write notes fast enough.

For 10 minutes he poured out the frustrations he felt at not being able to achieve all he wanted to. His standards of himself were exacting, far higher than many of his teammates.

He offered a brief glimpse into what drove him. It was heart and soul stuff and fascinating for providing an insight into a mind which constantly sought more of himself.

Crowe may not have overcome every challenge he faced on the field, but he did far more, and far better, than most.

- NZ Herald

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